the museum of americana

a literary review

Letter to C, On the Road, Etc. — Poetry by Priscilla Atkins

 

Dear Carmen: Hey, after all these years, I’m finally reading Kerouac.
Girls, girls, girls. No women in sight. You were right, you were right.
I imagine them all young and skinny. Stupid and skinny. Women
who think of themselves as stupid and skinny. Virgin armpits
that’ve never known a razor blade. Isn’t this the way:
“Outside of being a sweet little girl, she was awfully dumb.”
“White girls, colored girls, girls were girls.”
“I saw the cutest little Mexican girl, her breasts stuck out
straight and true: her little flanks looked delicious.”
Females served up as cheese on a stick. Veggies and dip.
Something for men to eat without getting their feelings sticky.
I laughed when the intro explained how On the Road—like Gatsby
and Huck Finn—”provides the reader with the prevailing social attitudes
of its time toward women and racial minorities.” Almost like we should be grateful
ol’ Jack wasn’t above all that—what would have been lost!
Not that men were the only guilty ones—
                                                        I’ve read Carolyn Cassady’s little
memoir too (did you know she was both Neal’s wife and Jack’s lover?).
Found out how pleased she was to serve whichever was in residence
according to their individual tastes. Couldn’t help picturing her
doing two things at once (like being on top with one arm stuck out
flipping burgers frying away on a hotplate strategically placed next to the bed).
But who’s complaining? She said that she felt like the star of the show,
functioning as a female with her housework and baby care, and her men
were her men.
                                        And not that these days we’ve got it all licked.
My friend, the composer, says of her husband George, “Hey, it’s not
my fault he’s so skinny—I make him home-cooked meals.”
The other night, over dinner, another friend’s male partner
was describing how his first wife spent a half-hour each day
“dolling up her face,” how that used to drive him nuts.
I looked up and noticed the perfect streaks of blond in his partner’s hair,
the carefully outlined eyes, the thick mascara. . . .
But I like to think along the way we push each other––we try.

A married friend who’s a chemist told me when her undergraduates asked
why she kept her own name, she shrugged her shoulders and winked,
“Peer pressure, you know how that is.” (It took them a moment,
but they eventually got it.)
                                                                  Well, I know
none of this is really news. But, Car, I also wanted to tell you this:
belittling references aside, I like that damned book.
The sheer shimmering movement—Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah—
the trail of all-nite diners with San Francisco at the end.
All those slices of apple pie scooped down with ice cream.
How miles from home, a person’s life distills down
to the slightest of moves in a motel mirror.
The absolute nakedness I’m drawn to and afraid of.
The truth that exists just around the bend,
where every beautiful, dumb, flat, blank piece of paper,
the part of me that answers to “Sal,” every night, every day,
every earth-bound moment is inevitably seducing me.
Hey, Car, take care. All best to you and the boys. Love, P.

 

~  ~  ~

Priscilla Atkins photoPriscilla Atkins lives in the Midwest, but in a past life shipped a small car to Hawaii and stayed ten years. Her studies have been at Smith College, the University of Hawaii, and Spalding University, where she earned her MFA. Her poems appear in Poetry LondonSalmagundiShenandoah, and other journals and anthologies. She teaches Women’s Studies and hangs out in Michigan, near the lake of that name.