Beauty is the Daughter of Death
In the end, beauty did what she was told, obeying orders.
Blouse of white roses dressed the casket. Flutes of white lilies, too,
Isabel's favorite, tipped crystalline to suggest dew,
a floral chorus of voices. Dutiful beauty weaving willow
into wicker, a coffin fit for Ophelia, and supervising even
the means of its transport, no usual hearse but a glass-sided
Victorian carriage, Cinderella style, black lacquer,
filigreed border, drawn by six giant bay horses,
that pranced on the road to the cathedral, ostrich plumes
bobbing on their heads, a funeral festive in its way. Upon
a female bust, the beloved Phillip Treacy hat in the form
of a miniature black battleship roiled by the high seas,
its majestic sails puffed out, special effects thanks
to the fan hidden behind them. Doesn't beauty think of everything!!?
Even the corpse, painstakingly dressed by McQueen who chose
for his muse one of his golden coats tipped with ocelot fur,
because she was a royal, a female pharaoh, his double. Another hat
featured, this one on her head, a stuffed pheasant hat,
in ostensible flight—Isabel had specified that, this time real.
At her dutiful best, our girl Beauty kept up appearances,
the good daughter, eager to please her exacting mother,
who had never looked this gorgeous.
"I love breasts. They're so old-fashioned." Isabella Blow
In her trademark dance in boarding school,
they were her eighth veil. All that insistent
shameless flesh, ambitious cleavage,
a calculated wardrobe malfunction. Once, in the Vogue
conference room, popped from her corset top,
a faulty cantilever, out tumbled those breasts. Later,
when her sari unwinding, slipped to the Manhattan street
she walked out of it, knicker-less, nonchalant:
she made a habit of it. For the famed Nipples in Naple
fashion shoot, she forced her assistants to expose their breasts,
or they'd be fired, and the photos show modern Amazons,
in crisscrossed strapped black swimsuits, a mockery of porn,
their areolas tightly capped, the nipples like lit wicks,
visible through the open spaces in the X's.
The model Sophie Dahl, in another spread, holds one of hers
like a cigarette. But for all of Isabella's blow,
she's still the hopelessly old-fashioned girl
dying to come back in style with her historic pair,
vintage Victorian, neither period pieces nor props,
and meant in the end for children.
Dog in the Hunt
Unlike those suggesting mystery, feminine wiles,
Chanel, Joy, Nuits de Paris, Isabel wore the signature
in-your-nose scent, the head turner Fracas, whose name
means a noisy street disturbance, a heated quarrel.
Isabella was no wallflower. As an early feminist, probably lesbian, Cellier,
the inventor, strove for a fauvist scent, for a sustained
dissonance, none of these tepid odors, but one with silage,
a strong olfactory trail like those left by animals. All knew when Isabella arrived
at the office, just a whiff preceding her, as she approached
her desk. The perfume's initial spritz, its top notes, start out
sparkly, all orange blossom, and citrus, upbeat, but soon darkness upwells
with the heavy presence of tuberose, called bone flower
by the Aztecs, favored in leis, Victorian funerals, a carnal scent,
same as the odor of armpits, flesh warm after sex
due to its voluptuous indoles, molecules found in part in excrement,
this sweet heady smell, commotion of white rich florals, a liquid velvet,
the lead flower joined by a forced consensus of jasmine, jonquils, iris,
like a girl desirous and not, complicated this business of sex and love.
Isabella, the seeming slut who delighted in everyone's discomfort
as she took out her breasts, but covered up her horsey face.
In the dry-down, the last stages, when theme stays put,
becomes its most substantive state, the scent of a deep woodsy base,
scraped oak moss emerges, surprisingly matronly,
and, she must've caught the elusive scent, fox
in her unwitting hunt for the selfsame ingredient,
found in her mother's powder
For our Isabella, make a pink papal hat (which looks, she said,
like a hard on); an alluring spiders' web; a scary alien from Roswell;
a crocodile, high concept headdress for a shaman;
a mourning cloche with a hundred veils to absorb the tears.
Treacy obliged his muse her pushy visions,
he was her hat slave, her stocked preserve,
mounted trophies in ready supply. Exotic feathers
were often favored, plucked from flamingos,
peacocks, bird of paradise, feathers that swept across the planes
of her face, a peek-a-boo, sophisticated fort-da.
Hidden were her yellow equine teeth, her bulbous English nose,
except for her beautiful eyes, risen blue suns above the horizon.
Yet she loved the common pheasant hat best, left mostly as is,
though headless, stuffed, mottled brown shaded
bronze, chestnut, copper, buff, worn jauntily,
like a mounded fedora. "The feathers" she effused,
"tattoos, inscribed like grain in wood--
and the smell of its rotting flesh, so beautiful,
still flurried like it's about to mate." Even though
it cost her, she bought it. Not a rare bird,
a strange bird, but a game bird familiar to the sporting set,
this nest of a bird, her burial hat, snug on her head,
caught in movement, as close to a life as she could get.
She'd die first before she'd put on Birkenstocks,
loin clothed, pedestrian
cave girl! If she sank her heels
into the mud, ruined them, she'd buy another pair.
She had to. They were her true feet, those Manolos!
Hi jinx and fun, glamour amour. A knight, an assassin
the heel a stiletto, Italian, hooves of the devil.
She was watercolours, a cursive script,
loopy and curvy, the arch of her feet uplifted
and sinuous as the necks of water birds,
the exposed toes upswept, plumage of swan tail,
for that matter the whole of her avian, transformed,
legs longer, derriere out, breasts forward,
and still a goddess of earth, gentle and vegetal,
shod in the sandal he designed for her, green satin and suede,
the straps vinous and leafy, tendrils entwining her calves
and the crystal acorns, braceleted at the ankle—
so when she leapt from the A-11 bridge wearing these shoes
(or succeeded later with weed killer), it was not because
she fantasized flight, but hoped for fertile dirt, the ground
where she could land, root and plant herself, at last,
along with all the other lives, growing around her.
Last Will and Testament
She willed her head to McQueen, her heart to Detmar,
where her body parts would serve real purpose.
She was undecided about her "snatch,"
which is why she often went without knickers,
exposed herself, oblivious, for anyone to take,
a sparkly bauble the magpies could feather their nests with,
her vital intimacy only an accessory,
like a cloche for the penis, the sex she didn't much like,
a fake flower pinned to a dress, a ruse of a purse,
some vintage padded Chanel, hung from a gold chain,
its contents a compact and a lipstick. It was good for nothing.
Give it to fucking death with all its massive impotence.
She'd flout herself then, oppose its resistance to disguise,
one she couldn't dress, or cover, or pass on
because it just wasn't having it, heir to no one,
as she had always known, a failed keepsake,
a lost estate, sealed off conduit of creation.
"My brother died, I remember the smell of the honeysuckle and him stretched out on the lawn. My mother went upstairs to put her lipstick on. That might have something to do with my obsession with lipstick." Isabella Blow
Naked lips recede into the face; kisses, their best effects,
are transient, vanish after delivery.
They supply no lasting evidence of life.
But lipstick buys some time,
augments connection, a promised prophylaxis.
Her lipstick looked like a gash
or wound, blood on her teeth, though really
it was a repeated statement of heart, not some cosmetic
accessory, but a supportive BFF without jealousy,
a female knight in her crusade for a child,
constantly applied, ever refreshed monitor.
She advertised her labial surrogate instead,
to arouse her misanthropic ovaries.
No wonder, she boasted of her oral skills,
leaving her traces of lipstick without smear,
the shocking trademark fuchsia, precise as a bulls' eye,
a soft quoit around the stake, as she played God,
just in this respect, giving her dormant Adams,
breath from her big donkey mouth, an EMT on the job,
able to resuscitate. Since she and Detmar,
like two exotic fruits who couldn't breed,
this option might work for her, another life
entering her this way, a reward for sucking it up.
At first it invigorated me following her fixations,
the calisthenics of her push up bra, black lace Atlas
of her cleavage, the bathing cap studded with crystals,
a sphere of lights as she swam under the water.
Fun, too, Treacy's crocodile hat like a sophisticated Muppet
on her head, which she wore as always with studied nonchalance.
I liked the glamor and the adventure of being paid for handsomely,
her wallet splayed open, small fortunes spent.
The trips abroad, where masked and caped,
a matador of wind and sand, she stood to be photographed
cavorting in the desert, as soldiers mustered in Kuwait a few miles off.
What cheek! the mortar board hat fanned with peacock plumage,
worn to the opera, blocking the view; or when on her first day
of work, at Vogue/London, she arrived in a gold chinchilla coat
to the floor, like a queen's robes, even her scent a statement,
her typewriter keys cleaned with Chanel #5, like lifting
her fallen aristocratic leg up, a high-class piss elegance.
She didn't exist unless she was outrageous. Am I trying to justify
my involvement with her, my fascinations?
As the demands began to escalate, hazardous— the diaphanous dress
forced to hold up during a snowstorm, the Manolos, instead
of more suitable espadrilles, on the cobblestone streets,
where her heel snapped and she had to be hospitalized.
All the frenzied changing of clothes, four and five times a day,
anywhere, brazenly, backseat of the taxi, on the streets, a McDonald's.
I may have been exhausted but I was never bored. She would flatter,
then turn on me-- my McQueen dropped in a heap on the floor,
the armpits stained, singed bird feathers at a dinner party
when she leaned in too close to the candles. Not quite abusive,
since I gave my aesthetic consent, to the whip-like piping, the chainmail,
the black leather dress and leg irons. But I admit I changed,
as we stalked London in the dapper black frock coat,
lined in red silk, from the Jack the Ripper collection,
curled lock of hair in the inside pocket,
murder made gorgeous, and the cut, like a god's, she said.
Just symbolism. The creatures of the night, the raptor get-ups,
when I invoked carnage, simulated the brutal movement
of flight, for a bloody trembling rabbit, or stood in a tattered nightgown,
beneath a Scottish tartan, like two sides of the same coin. You must
understand, she broadened my frissons, revealed my contradictions,
for which I will always be grateful. Yet, given my true nature,
I was never in too deep that I couldn't turn back.
She wore her favourite striped fuchsia dress in the ambulance,
refused the johnnie, insisted on her silver lame blouse,
which she would not take off, ever. The weed killer,
a chartreuse liquid, did not match. I wish I could say
that I stayed with her to the end. But the doctors mostly banned me,
prescribed calm dress— jeans and running shoes, no hats.
She had said she was only hat and lips. Now she was just lips.
Pain is pain, unless you work with me.
Had I stayed, I doubt that I could have saved her.
"I once had the insight deep in a profound depression that it was the beauty I shielded myself from, not the trauma. I was afraid of how it would feel to be filled with hope-- so naked, so fragile. Terrifying." Isabella Blow
Better to talk dirty, flash my silvery scales,
than swim like a fish who knows where,
lips saying in their speech of blue and hot tongs,
doitdoitdoit, plug the prong in the socket,
my brassy stories, you want to hear another?
Hail the taxi, there's a blow job in it for you.
Doing it doggie style, I'm a doggie,
or however four-legged mammals do it,
lions and tigers, you tell me. My face off
limits. Spin my wheels, boyfriend, a toy truck,
or undress me, like a doll, dress me.
Really do saw me in two, break your wand.
Between my breath and your bellows,
fan me into the same signature fire.
Crash your plane down on me, kiss me
everywhere except my lips,
never call me beautiful
Deborah Gorlin has published in a wide range of journals, including Poetry, Antioch Review, American Poetry Review, Seneca Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Harvard Review, Green Mountains Review, Bomb, Connecticut Review, Women’s Review of Books, New England Review, and Best Spiritual Writing 2000. New poems appear in On the Seawall, Chicago Quarterly, Salamander, and Plume. Before winning the 2014 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize for LIFE OF THE GARMENT, Bauhan Publishing, she won the White Pine Poetry Press Prize for her first book of poems, BODILY COURSE, in l996. Recently retired co-director of the Writing Program at Hampshire College, she is currently a poetry editor at The Massachusetts Review.
The Ekphrastic Review
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