Susan Aizenberg

The Beautiful American Word Baby
November 23, 2020 Aizenberg Susan

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.

Susan Aizenberg’s newest collection, A Walk with Frank O’Hara and Other Poems, is forthcoming this August in University of New Mexico Press’s Mary Burritt Christiansen Poetry Series. Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in Nine Mile, Pratik, ABQinPrint, Hole in the Head Review, SWWIM, On the SeawallNorth American Review, and elsewhere.