A big Beverly Hillbillies fan as a child, I made a reference to Jethrine in my poem "A History of the Body," from Karaoke Funeral. The twelve-part poem, which chronicles the journey toward accepting my body (yeah, right), has several generally well-known pop-culture references, as well as a couple of other obscure ones from the 80's. I realized it was risky to include the dated references, but I chose to go ahead. I figured my own peers would "get it" for sure, and the younguns could either consider the context or look it up.
But for today's nostalgia, I'm doing the work. I'm listing said references in order, indicating which section of the poem they occur in. I'll post the poem in its entirety too. Why not? It's my blog.
'A History Of The Body' Primer:
Possum--a nomadic, nocturnal marsupial that eats garbage and cat food.
Cambridge--A diet in formula powder guaranteed to cause paralysis if you stay on it for more than a day.
Boo Radley--Scout's ghostly but harmless neighbor in "To Kill A Mockingbird." Think Sloth from The Goonies.
Aerobics--an 80's exercise phenomenon, synonymous with Jane Fonda, responsible for the current boom in arthritis pharmaceuticals.
Fudge Jumbles--an 80's snack phenomenon, puked up in mass by bulimics all over the country.
Thin Mints--Girl Scout Crack
Lucy and Ethel--refers to the episode of the 50's I Love Lucy sit-com where Lucy and Ethel work in a chocolate factory and end up cramming chocolates in their mouths because they can't box them fast enough. Dream or nightmare?
Ricky Ricardo--Lucy's hapless hubby.
Jethrine--Jethro's super-sized sister, duh. Played by Max Baer, who played Jethro.
Venus--Roman name for Greek goddess Aphrodite, born of sea foam and notorious for her affairs with mortal men.
Helen--According to Greek mythology, the most beautiful woman in the world. Caused the Trojan War.
anchovy--a stinky little fish, and pizza topping.
Clermont-- 'round back, in the basement. Your granny can strip here.
A HISTORY OF THE BODY
When John left me for a twenty-year-old
smooth and unlined as new road,
the thing I worried about most
wasn’t working at Wal-Mart, or the children
who walked around like three clenched fists,
but my birth-ravaged body, its stretch marks
like tire tracks, the belly split wide
and stitched into a leather purse,
the sad flattened possums of my breasts.
Who’d love me now?
Kathy won’t wear anything but overalls
until she drops five more pounds,
is starting to look like a sack of herself.
At the bakery, I’m trying to decide between bagel and scone
as if I were declaring my major. She pinches
the punched dough of her waist, tells me
a bagel counts as three bread exchanges.
In the outdoor amphitheater, music
like privilege, catered picnics on folding tables,
the women look lovely
and thinner in candlelight, at dusk,
holding long elegant crystal stems.
The line for the restroom is endless as discontent,
but there’s one empty stall.
Perched above the toilet clogged with vomit,
I see red press-on nails scattered on the floor.
Judging by the contents floating
in the bowl between my knees—shreds
of romaine, whole croutons, chicken,
and marzipan—I’d contend
someone first picked off the nails like petals
so she wouldn’t tear her throat.
Having learned too early ways the female anatomy
can accommodate a man, I vowed
I’d never grow a woman’s body, stalled puberty
with a diet of Cambridge and canned peaches
until I was fifteen, until one night, sitting in front of the t.v.
with a bowl of dill pickle chips and a fork,
I watched “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
And as Scout took Boo Radley’s hand in hers,
I forgot myself, bled.
Our seventh mile, Kathy and I see the girl again,
maybe nineteen, with an I-mean-business-
in-any-weather expression, her brisk clip
almost a jog. No matter what time of day
we run, she’s out, like a defiant tongue,
lapping the neighborhood, and just as soft,
now, as when we first saw her, months ago.
We did the same in college—
swimming, biking, aerobics and, in-between,
quick batches of Fudge Jumbles, Thin Mints.
We say it together: “Walking herself fat.”
My birthday coming up fast,
I walk around crying, have bad dreams:
last night, the conveyor-belt-gone-haywire
Lucy episode, with Kathy as Ethel.
The chocolates had stamped on them
all the years left of our lives, speeding by.
We had to eat them or lose them forever,
and some man out of sight was laughing,
Ricky Ricardo, or maybe John.
Beri phones early, wakes me, and I can’t tell
if she’s crying or just recovering from a bout
of morning sickness. She asks what exercise
I did when I was pregnant, says her knees
look like bean bags, her husband called her Jethrine.
I remember the names, how my bed grew larger
the longer I was with-child, becoming an ocean
where I floated each night, alone and untouched.
I recommend walking, describe some simple calisthenics,
then hang up quickly, divining only to the walls,
“The man is already shopping.”
Greg’s “old” college buddies are in town
for the weekend—Christy and Sara and Todd.
A stream of mail preceded the visit, sexy
post cards addressed to “Love Chunk” and “Sweet Buns”
that ooze at me from his dresser.
They’ve gone out this evening to “catch up,”
and five years older than he is, I’m trying hard
to be an adult. But I envision Venus and Helen,
only younger. I picture a double date—
Greg & Christy, Todd & Sara.
Or Greg & Sara. All night alone
I do inventory: four lines under my left eye,
one new dimple on my ass.
When I was nineteen, I lay on the cool familiar
flat of Tom Valley’s bed, having nothing more
to offer, and he with nothing else to gain, when he
stated as matter-of-factly as if he’d found a penny,
“You have a beautiful body.” Even as I felt
near-perfect for those few unparalleled seconds,
in the next my vision cleared: Liar, Flatterer, Idiot.
My smell filled the room like leftover pizza. Anchovy.
I love to go to the Clermont,
“Atlanta’s oldest gentlemen’s club,”
Where dancers never die or retire
but simply grow closer to the ground
as they strip on the bar, fondle
the ceiling for balance.
Blondie, star of the show, is fifty-two.
Patina black skin, permed platinum fall
framing the cauldron of her middle,
she’s famous for crushing beer cans,
five dollars a turn, between her breasts.
She packs both hands full of slack flesh and nipple
and stretches, pulls them like taffy,
before the wreck and aluminum crunch.
I know Greg loves me:
He takes ballroom dancing, took my kids
to the fair. And I love him in a way
that is healthier, covered by insurance.
but neither he nor my therapist can cure
this need to fill the crisper drawer
with perfect peaches and grapefruits.
Or that other nightmare, where life
is one big orgy and they’re about to pick teams.
She has my sister’s blond hair and blue eyes,
the same long limbs I always envied.
But the tenacious hand that holds her spoon is mine,
and my square hips keep her planted.
Looking up from the bowl of whipped cream
she calls fruit salad, my daughter asks,
“Will I be pretty as you when I grow up?”
I take a deep breath: strawberries and sugar.
“Baby,” I say, “you are going to be magnificent.”