The Phyllis

By R. T. Smith b. 1947
My husband was in the CIA. That’s the kind   
of woman I am. Lived all over Asia in suites   
decked out for the embassy staff, lounged   
around pools with sweet Singapore Slings,   
but now that I’m on my own, I can’t stand
to waste a minute, not a breath. You may know   
my regular work at Helen’s Mademoiselle   
Beauty Nook downtown, but on the side   
I help women trim their belly fat. “Lose   
weight now, ask me how.” A thin American   
girl is a happy one, I always say. Oprah, too,   
but the drugs witch doctors sell can kill   
brain cells quicker than liquor. And your will,   
your liver. Listen, herbs are just what   
you need to cut that cellulite. I learned   
that in the Orient. I had spare time to spare   
and paid attention. Embrace herbs and exercise   
daily with a proper purge, just like the monks   
of Buddha. Tablets help, and fruit shakes, too,   
make you frisky as a prime-time preacher,   
but here’s my recent love and pleasure:   
invention. True, I mixed a chemical rinse
that made great colors like the ao dais in Saigon,   
but some of the girls said it burned. Then   
I worked with Gene Graddick on a special   
quick perm you can get wet, but he cut out   
before we got it perfectly perfected. Beauty,
though, that’s the ticket. I knew that even in Nam,   
while Jim-ass was off on his secret missions.   
The new machine I’m the mother of will move   
senior citizens and the, you know, “crippled”   
gals to the swivel chair without a hitch. I saw   
too many women, men, and sad children   
with stiff legs (or one or none) who couldn’t   
move after one government or another   
gave invitations to mortar fire or a claymore mine.   
With this machine I could prop them straight   
and wet-cut any willing guinea pig—pardon   
my calling the handicapped that—blow dry   
and comb them out with no inconvenience.   
My prototype is getting made in a LaGrange   
body shop this minute, if Bish is working   
late like he promised, and I aim to franchise,   
since Jim left me flat busted—well, you can   
see that’s a figure of speech—with back bills   
piled to the ceiling. The government has laws   
that business can’t fairly slight the challenged,   
so if I get it right, it’s got to sell. I can’t   
tell you how it works, you know. I learned   
secrecy from an expert, covert fool. It’s called   
“The Phyllis,” after me.
                                     What’s wrong with that?
It’s no brag if you really did it. Hell—excuse   
my French—you know Snake Grillis of Snake   
and the Grass? He can pick the fiddle better   
than any man alive, and says so on stage.   
It’s no lie, so let him waller in it, I say. Look,   
I’m salt of the earth and have all the right   
attitudes and skills, not that selfish royal act   
my Jim put on when we went to the market.
He called the people “slants” and laughed   
when they didn’t savvy. It’s no wonder
he carried a Colt in his belt; they could tell   
how superior he felt, and they hated him hard.   
That asshole—pardon my French, but it’s so.
       No thanks, I stick to coffee. Hard stuff   
was what my ex used to wet his whistle   
and make him sharp for following spies,   
and cocaine, too, I suspect. Myself, I don’t   
need a jumpstart when loving’s on my mind.   
I got a tummy tuck, a boob job, a wardrobe   
straight from Penney’s Gay Parisian line.
You’re a devil, but you smile like a G.I. on leave,   
and I can cure your entire cowlick problem.   
I’ve got a chair and a whole outfit at home,   
plus a queen waterbed and a Sony VCR   
on credit. I’m maxed out! Grab your jacket,   
buckaroo, and to hell with any sour memories.   
I’ve got bourbon and branch, black lace,   
and oodles of time. I’ve got a Walther
in my purse and boudoir kung fu tricks for two.   
I’m here now and just for you. Call me Phyllis   
or The Phyllis or Boo, then just call me in time   
for breakfast. Ain’t this a lucky rendezvous?

R. T. Smith, “The Phyllis” from The Hollow Log Lounge. Copyright © 2003 by R. T. Smith. Used with the permission of the poet and the University of Illinois Press.

Source: The Hollow Log Lounge (University of Illinois Press, 2003)

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Poet R. T. Smith b. 1947

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Activities, Jobs & Working

Poetic Terms Dramatic Monologue, Blank Verse

 R. T. Smith


Poet R.T. (Rod) Smith was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in Georgia and North Carolina. He earned a BA in philosophy from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and an MA in English from Appalachian State University. His collections of poetry include From the High Dive (1983), The Cardinal Heart (1991), Hunter-Gatherer (1996), Trespasser: Poems (1996), Split the Lark: Selected Poems (1999), Messenger (2001), Brightwood . . .

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SUBJECT Activities, Jobs & Working

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Dramatic Monologue, Blank Verse

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