On Diane Arbus, by Cathy Smith Bowers
A Jewish Giant at Home with His Parents in the Bronx, NY, 1970
"There were giants in the earth in those days…"
He looms, their darling boy, above the two
of them, his head and shoulders Atlas-shrugged,
as if to keep from crashing down upon them all
the cracked and dingy plaster of their ceilinged
world. Mother stares in wonder up at him, like
a woman heavy with reluctant child, her hands
pressed sure and solid against her lower back.
Father stands beside her, his fingers knuckle-deep
inside the pockets of his coat, a look of benign
acceptance on his face. They seem a diligent
pair: lamps swaddled, still, in the protective
cellophane they bought them in. Fringed
slipcovers safeguarding the sofa and the chair.
Yet here he stands, this quasi-Quasimodo
of their only son. Dark shock of tousled curls.
Shoes like burnished boxcars. Fingers gripping
the sturdy crook of cane that holds him now
aloft. To her he is the babe she once knitted
booties for. To him, the tyke he steadied down
the sidewalk on his bike. Sweet Goliath of their
hearts, they do not know in two short years
he will have grown himself to death, that
the tumor sent soaring by some truant
gland inside his brain will too late
be found a cure. A stone’s throw away
from ridding the earth forever
of his kind.
Untitled (6) 1970-71
Your camera does not say retarded, slow.
Rogue or truant chromosome. Says only
three young girls on a grassy lawn, backed
by the treed horizon. Their happiness
obscures thick tongues and heavy lidded eyes
as one stares down in awe, the other’s head
flung back in sudden glee. At their feet lies
an unwrapped gift, or perhaps a modest lunch
someone has packed for them. “Give me a pose,”
you must have said as their friend pressed palms
and soles into the earth and thrust her calico
clad rump toward the sky. Soon you will choose
for them a place on the wall of a gallery
amidst an array of stars and royalty.
Young Brooklyn Family Going for a Sunday Outing, 1966
She seems the perfect cross between Boy George
and Elizabeth Taylor. He, James Dean and Robert
Blake (You, at that time, of course, could not have
made the connection). It’s spring. Or maybe early fall.
She is sleeveless, a leopard coat draped just-
in-case across one arm, black strap of a purse
woven into the warp of her slender fingers. She,
too, carries a camera and a bundled baby girl
to complete her load. But it must have been their
boy that drew you to them, left hand grasped tight
inside James/Robert’s right, the pain-crossed eye,
Munch-like cave of mouth, free hand a desperate
clutch at his small crotch. Only you must know,
as your shutter clicks, how bad he has to go.
A Young Man in Curlers at Home on West 20th Street, NYC, 1966
Faggot. Noun. Bundle of sticks bound togeth-
er as fuel. Pejorative for ho-
mosexual, allusion to the pyre
of brittle twigs over which one’s body
in by-gone times might have been set aflame.
Fag. Slang for cigarette, the soft glow of
its dying ember. Why, when I gaze up-
on the lovely symmetry of his face,
cigarette held elegant between the
manicured shimmer of his fingertips,
are these the thoughts that assail the ety-
mology-obsessed synapses of my
aberrant mind? What I really want to
say is this: His mouth is a valentine.
Cathy Smith Bowers
Cathy Smith Bowers is a former Poet-Laureate of North Carolina. Her work has appeared in many journals including The Atlantic, The Georgia Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review, and The Gettysburg Review. Her first book, The Love That Ended Yesterday in Texas, was the inaugural winner of The Texas Tech University Press First Book Competition. Her poems have been featured on Garrison Keillor’s Poetry Almanac and on Poetry Daily. Her fifth book, The Collected Poems of Cathy Smith Bowers, Press 53, won the 2014 SIBA Award for Poetry. Her most recent book is The Abiding Image: Inspiration and Guidance for Beginning Writers, Readers, and Teachers of Poetry, Press 53, 2021.
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