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Anna Magnani in The Rose Tattoo

by C.S. Gilbert 

The thing was, she wasn’t really pretty.
How many movie stars, in the firmament
of Hollywood, that tinseled, technicolor world,
were not really pretty, the women and even the men?
A couple of comics, that’s all.

So I sat in the flickering dark of the Drexel
on Main Street, Ohio, 19 hundred 55,
with my girlfriends one Saturday night, watched
that wild, sexy woman, electric on screen,
hypnotic big breasts, curvy hips (I was barely
beginning to grow those big breasts,
those wide hips), and I watched almost stunned
by her smooth olive skin, by her dark snapping eyes,
straight Roman nose, assertive, not turned up and tiny
like real movie stars.

I sat and ate popcorn and thought that in spite
of the posters outside under glass, no, she just
wasn’t pretty … Now many years later
I know that that movie, that woman who just
wasn’t pretty, as I wasn’t pretty, embedded itself,
embedded herself, burned, carved, stamped a mark
in my shallow teen brain, and that woman
who just wasn’t pretty, as I wasn’t pretty,
was strong and was passionate, was in her skin
fully whole, force of nature, was beautiful, real,
all rose petals, real fragrance, tough stems and thorns,

as one day I would be.

Born in Indiana to snowbird parents, C.S. Gilbert won her first poetry prize in 1956. Last year, a haiku of hers was among 10 selected to be stamped into a new sidewalk in Key West. She studied poetry at Mills College and has also worked as a college English teacher, journalist, feminist and GLBT rights activist. She moved to Key West in 1994, thinking she would write fiction, “but mostly I morphed into a poet,” she says. “Paradise can do that to you.” This poem won second place in the recent Tennessee Williams Exhibit’s competition with a theme of “The Rose Tattoo,” named after Williams’ play made into a movie and filmed on the island in 1955.¬†

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