from the editors

current issue

past issues



Follow UCityReview on Twitter



James Cihlar

Walk on the Wild Side

Sorry, Wrong Number

Walk on the Wild Side

A person must play a character.
Sometimes the character is too close to home.
I played a lesbian madam in A Walk on the Wild Side,
even though I turned down Margo in All About Eve.

I had always played women of appetite.
I knew my companion Barbara Ferguson would not be offended.
She of all people knew Bob and I were a lavender couple.
I didn’t need to reassure her.

Does saying “I’m sorry” really make a difference?
Forgiving those I’ve harmed is easy after they are gone.
When war broke out, I may have thrown myself into service,
but I was no hero; there was more I could have done.

After the war, when McCarthy rose to power,
I played along in his rank attempt to kill the New Deal,
to rout FDR’s liberal intellectuals and gays.
I sent Bob to testify. He was the first star to name names.

And then I continued to work with those he named.
You wouldn’t think it, but I was broken up
when he left me for another woman.
It wasn’t the end of Camelot exactly.

Ava Gardner wasn’t Guinevere and Bob wasn’t Lancelot,
unless Lancelot was queer.
But after that, the world just kept on ending.
Those who remember are cowed, diminished, chastened.

We made the mistake of putting the heart before the course.
What’s left is doing the same thing over and over.
During the height of the studio system
I was freelance. Sometimes I liked working better than living.

Working was a way to shut down thinking.
Once we start remembering we also start forgetting.
A person must go back to the beginning of the ending,
to find the invention of solitude.

Return to list of poems

Sorry, Wrong Number

Sometimes the lines get crossed.
You think you’re in one conversation
but then you find out you’re in another.

Something about worry is addictive.
Once you start feeling it, you want to perform it,
like it’s a religious rite. As the lies repeat,

they become the truth.
Even after they are gone, they are still there.
In her mind, Leona was sick,

and that was enough to make her body sick.
She performed the rite of lying in bed
wearing a lace nightgown, berating her husband.

Being a bitch is really being a weakling.
Spending worry before bad things happen
makes you broke when they do.

Your responses become conditioned.
That’s how you ended up agreeing to things
in court that you didn’t really agree with.

It’s like not fighting on the playground.
Or letting a stranger push you against a fence.
Sometimes the process takes over, and you sign off.

Just taking it, like you’ve been trained,
Don’t get out of the bed, don’t go scream
out the window, don’t try to save your life.

Return to list of poems

James Cihlar’s new book, The Shadowgraph,is forthcoming from the University of New Mexico Press in 2020. He is the author of the poetry books Rancho Nostalgia (Dream Horse Press, 2013), Undoing (Little Pear Press, 2008), and the poetry chapbooks A Conversation with My Imaginary Daughter (Bloom, 2013), and Metaphysical Bailout (Pudding House, 2010). His writing has appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Threepenny Review, Lambda Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, and Nimrod.

Return to list of poems

copyright 2010-2018 ucity review