Sep. 18, 2003

Achtung, My Princess, Good Night

by Barbara Hamby

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Poem: "Achtung, My Princess, Good Night," by Barbara Hamby, from The Alphabet of Desire (New York University Press).

Achtung, My Princess, Good Night

Arrivederci, Cinderella, your goose is cooked, grilled,
burned to be precise, blistered, while you, nestled in your

crumbling necropolis of love, think, who am I?
Delores del Rio? No, nothing so déclassé, yet

even your mice have deserted you, little pipsqueaks,
fled to serve your stepsisters, dedicated now to

good works, a soup kitchen, if you can imagine. What is this
heresy of ugliness that has overtaken the world?

I am Beauty, you scream. Wrong fairy tale, and
just so you don't forget, size sixes are not enough in this

karaoke culture, and even here you have to do more than
lip sync "Begin the Beguine," "My Funny Valentine,"

"Mona Lisa," "Satisfaction," because you can't get no,
no, no, no, consummation, so to speak. Sex is kaput,

over, married a decade, three litters of neurasthenic
princes, your figure shot, not to mention your vagina. Don't

quote me on that you cry, my public can't bear very much
reality. Who can? Yet there it is staring you in the face.

Scram, vamoose, la cucaracha, cha cha cha. Admit it, you're
tired of this creepy pedestal, the pressed pleats,

undercooked chicken, Prince Embonpoint and his cheesy
Virna Lisi look-alike mistress with her torpedo chest. Auf

Wiedersehen to this stinking fairy-tale life, this pack-rat
Xanadu built on the decomposing carcasses of girlish hope.

Yes, all your best friends, all your gorgeous diamonds are cubic
zirconias, but flashing like the real thing, as if you'd know.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Dr. Samuel Johnson, born in Lichfield, England (1709). He wrote the Dictionary of the English Language (1755) and Lives of the Poets (1781). The dictionary took him more than nine years to complete. He did it mostly by himself, and with hardly any financial support. It became the standard English dictionary for the next 150 years. It was the first dictionary to use quotations to illustrate word usage. There were 114,000 quotations from other writers. And there were 40,000 words, including: cynosure, equator, category, habeas corpus, hypostasis, marasmus, meridian, atrophy, pestilence, honeysuckle, scorpion, and zenith. Johnson said, "their accents should be settled, their sounds ascertained, and their etymologies deduced." He is also famous as the subject of James Boswell's biography The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791). Samuel Johnson said, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money."

It's the anniversary of the opening of Jane Addams's Hull House on the west side of Chicago in 1889. Hull House became an important center for human rights and civil liberties during the first part of the twentieth century. The neighborhood was full of Italian, Irish, Greek, Bohemian, German, Russian, African, and Mexican immigrants. Addams set up kindergarten classes, club meetings, and night schools for underprivileged people in Chicago. She soon added an art gallery, a kitchen, a coffee house, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, a book bindery, an art studio, a music school, a library, and a labor museum. She helped hundreds of Chicago immigrants in their transition to American society.

It's the birthday of actress Greta Garbo, born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson in Stockholm, Sweden (1905). She was in twenty-seven movies, including Anna Christie (1930), Grand Hotel (1932), Anna Karenina (1935), and Camille (1937). She usually played a mysterious, sophisticated, tragic character, a woman hopelessly in love who ends up dying or is forced to give up her lover. After a score of silent films, she made her talkie debut in an adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie. Her first talking scene takes place in a waterfront saloon. She turns to the bartender and says, "Gimme a visky with chincher ale on the side and don't be stingy, baby."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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