A City Full of Eyes (James Cilhar)

About James Cihlar
Author’s Notes

 • Rancho Nostalgia
 • ’Til We Meet Again
 • Night Song
 • Lonely, Deeply
 • Light and Dark
 • The Face Behind the Mask
 • Johnny Guitar
 • Nora Prentiss
 • King Arthur and His Mob
 • The Normal Lives of
    Good People
 • English Poem
 • The Projectionist
 • Man Proof
 • The Reality Show
 • Modern Maturity
 • Epistemology Roadshow
 • Nostalgiarama
 • Let’s All Chant
 • Rancho Nostalgia II




It is not so hard to believe
that one’s husband
has murdered his brother

once you have time
to get used to the notion,
Jayne Meadows

tells Katherine Hepburn
in Vincente Minnelli’s
dizzying film noir.

With his fine eye
for the details of women’s clothes,
her husband

has transformed Hepburn’s
sporty tomboy
from confident screwball

to stylish, mature victim.
As her silhouette
has sharpened

her confidence has eroded.
Even her crisp diction
has softened with confusion.

Her husband,
a munitions magnate,
murdered a Jewish refugee

in his employ
and took credit for his invention
that defeated the Nazis.

Because we could not love
Katherine Hepburn if she loved
a man whose deeds are so evil,

the movie asks us to believe
she loves her husband’s brother instead,
even though she has never met him.

A life without fear,
her husband vows.
His fear has transformed

into anger. Either
he must tell his wife
or kill her.

When he offers her
a cup of coffee
at breakfast,

the camera looks at her
as if through water,
the manifold planes

of her raw-boned face
blurred, a woman
on the verge of drowning.

This is our inheritance,
our ancestors’ legacy,
the mid-century formula

for adulthood, a world
whose largeness and corruption
is beyond our grasp.

The modes of the past
configure into masks
we assume in the course of a day.

At the end of the movie,
the husband is dead
and the wife is with the brother.

Here’s to the apocryphal insertion,
the inherent appeal of the alternative spiral,
incendiary in the helix of our DNA.

  © James Cihlar, 2012


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