Tara A. Elliott

St. Paul’s Churchyard

“I thought I told you to wait in the car.”
—Tallulah Bankhead

Did you curse us that day, when we, just sixteen,
carried Tiger-lilies across the stretch of lawn
to place along your ground-flush tomb? And you,
more silent than any of your early pictures, said nothing.
What did we want of a used-up actress dead & gone
by more than twenty years?
What did we hope would ghost from your grave?

Secrets of Hollywood, tales of lovers you once seduced
by framing yourself in bathrobes & high heeled mules,
your on-screen lipstick blacker than any ink, cigarette smoke
leaking from the front of your mouth in constant French inhale,
and how you never once wore panties, even when climbing
or turning cartwheels. Oh Dutch, we needed to know how you lost
even the bit parts to those better than you—how you’d put your lips
together & blow every damned role to which you were destined,
every handsome man who ever dared loved you.
And how the cabana boys & casting directors would part
your jazz garters to fill you with intent. And why you never returned
to the South with your nose clean, Dahling, champagne & bourbon
dripping off your tongue like honey from the local hives. Oh Tallulah,
your very name spoke fame, something we knew we’d never have—
of which, like the babies the studio made you abort, you never
were delivered. Addicted to your mixed-drink of infamy & tragedy,
we scouted for your grave, so entirely plain, it would take hours for us to find.
In strewing those bright flowers, we paid tribute, thought we understood.

No wonder we would return to the car to find the window shattered—
safety-glass glinting in the sunlight, beaded & blue,
like one of those gowns men would so often slip
from your marble shoulders.