The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday

From "Zeppo's First Wife"
By Gail Mazur

whose name I find this morning on the web,
Marion Benda -- footnote to a footnote -- she's gone,
of course, as the brothers are, through the zodiacal lights
beyond stardom and failure, beyond his family's
history and ours of raves and flops. Replaced,

forgotten. Not missed. Only the hand that touched
the hand , my mother would say dismissively,
but surely something more, something happier.
Her life not so unlike yours or mine, or Zeppo's,
then: he never got top billing, no one's idea

of the zeitgeist of the Jazz Age -- except that night
his brother's biographer uncovered: he came in
first, he was the rage, he lived in an audience's
delirious laughter, lived, not quite himself,
in the roar of its applause. And then, he left the stage.


From Poet's Choice by Robert Pinsky in The Washington Post Book World. "Imagine the audacity to entitle a new collection of poems Zeppo's First Wife!" he writes. "Gail Mazur's title is too anti-lyrical for any old-fashioned notion of poetry. Yet its comedy is not merely wise-guy or superior in the glib manner sometimes called post-modernist. Here the element of tribute is real and sincere. The three words dance a gavotte of contradictions: Zeppo Marx exemplifies what is in superficial ways a known or even 'well-known' personality -- but in other, important ways is not really known. A figure whom we think we know may be overlooked or underestimated (and, in Zeppo's case, alphabetically last). 'First' is in the opposite direction from 'Zeppo.' But then 'Wife' reverses that opposition: A first wife is a replaced wife, and 'wife' itself is a richly ambiguous, basic social term."

Pinsky labels the poem above "an aria on the importance of what goes unnoticed. Mazur characteristically uses social comedy to illustrate metaphysical pathos. 'Celebrity' does not necessarily make a person glorious or even remembered: Often, it is diminishing or dismissive, reducing this person or that to a teeny dot of fame. We yearn toward the permanent in vain. This is a traditional theme: Shakespeare and Homer write about the intimate channels that run between the ephemeral and the eternal. Mazur brings that subject into our world of Google and Turner Classic Movies. The poem's 11 five-line stanzas assemble a dazzling variety of lore. For instance, one night when Groucho had appendicitis, the apparent cipher Zeppo had to stand in for his brother the star. Zeppo painted on the moustache, put on the black glasses and brought the house down. He was so funny that Groucho was spurred 'to get better quicker.' The first wife, the poem's nominal focus, is literally related to the poet -- some sort of cousin. Figuratively, as an instance of how little or how briefly any person is known, she is related to everyone. The passing glory and mystery of life, the disproportionate claims on the eternal that underlie elegy, are embodied by that specific, actual and not quite anonymous woman...mortality, in the last words, caps a wry, strangely comforting perception: On the stage of attention, each person may be 'not quite himself,' but in death, as in the real, central part of life, each individual is "something more," beyond top billing or applause."

This morning for some absurd reason the dryer that would not turn on at all yesterday and had to be completely taken apart decided, when I pressed the start button on a whim, I did a very small load of laundry just to see whether it was a fluke and it dried everything fine, without either stopping or exploding. I am not sure whether to feel reprieved or nervous now: can a dryer with a somewhat broken timing belt set the house on fire if left unattended? Does this mean I can postpone shopping for a new dryer at least until after the holiday insanity, since I was in terror of going to the mall the Saturday before Christmas?

We were in a terribly crowded parking lot anyway, as we took the kids and ourselves to get haircuts (I still get my hair cut at Cartoon Cuts, where for under $20 from a lovely woman named Elli I get a far better haircut than the last one I got from the hairdresser my mother goes to for more than three times the price). We also did some last minute shopping at Plow and Hearth, got free smoothies at that new Robek's place (the berry one is fantastic, and they were giving out samples of fresh-squeezed orange juice that was also wonderful), made a brief run through Whole Foods and distracted younger son from his unwanted haircut in Congressional Aquarium, hence tonight's photos.

Like an idiot I did not take photos of the labels on the tanks, so I have no idea what kind of fish this is -- it's at least six inches across and just as gloriously colorful as it looks.

The beautiful, poisonous lionfish. My son tells me that the Romans used the venom in their stingers to make poisoned arrows, does anyone know if this is true? I didn't think they could fatally sting humans, just that it hurt a lot to be stung by one!

Nemo, Marlin and Dory...err, you know what I mean. *g*

In the evening I stuck on Meet the Santas, which is not my kind of movie in SO many ways, just long enough to see Armin Shimerman as an anal retentive elf -- a role I discovered he would be reprising only that morning when I had to cover it for TrekToday; to my astonishment, my kids decided they liked the movie and asked us to tape it after they went to bed halfway through! I loathe most Christmas movies, and I really hate Santa movies, and it figures it took a Jewish Star Trek actor to get all of us watching one, heh. (The movie is rerunning on the Hallmark Channel many times this week if anyone is dying to see it; I never saw the prequel.) And in that spirit:

Christmas Elf Name

My Christmas Elf Name is
Get your Christmas Elf Name at

Yay, I might be a cat! And, like Shimerman, I think I should play an elf in a movie, because I am short. Sunday I am going to a Yule celebration with vertigo66 and beeej, and then vertigo66 and I are going to see Brokeback Mountain. Because once is never enough.

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