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The Phyllis

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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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The Phyllis

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