The Beautiful American Word Baby
after John Weir
Once, I wanted it growled low in the throat
by a Steve McQueen look-a-like
as he pulled me down for a long, slow kiss—
me in my Liz Taylor satin slip,
him in his tight tee shirt and low-slung jeans.
Some steamy motel night. Babe
would do for more domestic moments—
hey, Babe, have you got a second?—
not quite so good, but still clear as a ring
or my name tattooed on a bicep—
keep away girls, taken. No Sweetheart, no Sugar
for my dream lover, too many
high-pitched consonants, too easy for salesclerks
and sarcasm, too Southern. Only Baby
sounded like whiskey and leather jackets,
the backs of Harleys, James Dean
and young Brando, pointy-toed boots
of worn-soft Spanish leather. Honey
was for drag queens and sitcom husbands—
jokey as a big wig and falsies, homely as Schlitz
and socks on the bedroom floor. Doll reeked
of menace, cold eyes, hard slap, sharp
flick of a switchblade. Dear was unthinkable—
Ozzie and Harriet, virginal librarians
who hadn’t yet transformed by taking off
their glasses and letting down their hair.
Baby it had to be, appreciative as a whistle
from the young hard hats in summer,
breeze ruffling a cotton skirt on bare legs.
Baby was dangerous, sexy hitters
perched on car hoods hot Coney Island nights
in July, signal clear as any other animal’s
call. Baby was I want you, a warm hand
cupping a naked breast, a palm sliding
down a man’s taut stomach. Musky sheets.
Quickened pulse. I was too young
to question— Baby? As in child? As in mine?
Not your Baby reads the tee shirt
on the young woman I passed on the street
today, and of course she’s right.
Even back then it was mostly a bad joke—
who can remember every chick’s name, man —
or habit, a tick, no more meaningful
than a pecked cheek goodbye. Still, at sixteen
it seemed to me beautiful. Sleepy green eyes
behind Ray Bans. A cocked cowboy hat.