MEETING WITH MISTER ROYAL, JANUARY 18, 1999

The corner office sputtered like a kerosene lamp
against the coal mine of winter storm outside.
Its occupant, for the moment: an old man -- balding,
hunched, impotent, bitter, white, deathly pale white,
a member of a white-plumed white boy's white club.
Did I mention he was white?  He was white --
the last of a generation -- God willing, the last
generation -- where being white,
being male, being born white and male was a game show
prize
including the front seat, the lead in the lindy, and
the slippery-elm, cod-liver condescension when
ordering stock boys, girl Fridays. 
The last year of the Twentieth Century, and for him,
it was still an Eisenhower year,
a solid South, Tom Collins, Jim Crow, Bobby Riggs,
stewardess-simpering year. 
It was Martin Luther King day, and his staff was at
work.
Did I mention he was white?  He was white.

He buzzed his secretary, typing furiously in the
antechamber. 
"Honey?  I am waiting for Mister Royal.  Bring me his
papers." 
His tone rang pompously, clanging loudest on the word
Royal -- a man he had never met. 
The resume presumed royal things of Royal -- Vice
President here, Chief Counsel there,
Bangkok, Dubai, London here, Munich, New York, San
Jose there. 
Harvard MBA, Columbia BA, honors, honors  --
summa cum player, summa cum talent, summa cum shrewd.

the old man -- did I mention he was white?-- imagined
his interview --
a back-slapping, strutting session mano a mano, man to
man with a man
with teeth like lightning, smelling faintly of cigar
and wet merino wool, healthy and tan in winter,
blindingly blond with a streak of silver,
belonging to all the white plumed white boy's white
clubs, with the bearing of a king. 
Did I mention it was Martin Luther King day, and his
staff was at work? 
Did I mention he was white?  He was white.

The call came from the front desk, and the old man,
slippery-elm, cod-liver condescending,
clanged through the intercom, "Honey?  Bring in Mister
Royal." 
He heard the pitter patter of little heels, and he
cinched his tie,
smoothed the remaining hairs around his bald pate,
stood as straight as he could after bearing all that
white man's burden since the Great Depression,
and waited to bond with another man like himself --
someone who knew the value of you-know-what, someone
who knew what time it was . 
The little color left in his face left for good
as in strode Mister Royal, as elegantly as if astride
a white horse,
princely in his gait, tall and strong as a redwood, a
smile showing teeth like lightning,
smelling faintly of cigar and wet merino wool,
healthy, so healthy in winter, tan -- tan?
Well, more like dark brown, more like the color of the
best coffee Kenyan currency can buy,
with hair the black of the coal mine winter storm
outside, no streak of silver yet,
showing the old man -- did I mention he was white?
What time it was, where the players were, whose turn
it was in the front seat,
who led the lindy, if you really still wanted to
lindy,
what whithers a white plume in winter,
and he did it with such noblesse, with the bearing of
a king. 
It was Martin Luther King day, and he was at work.


Anne Babson




A DOZEN REASONS I CAN'T WRITE IN L.A.

1.
The lower oxygen levels damage brain cells,
Making the poolside chatter too David Hockney.

2.
Everybody owns a gun, but a thesaurus?
"Where do you think you are, baby, Jurassic Park?"

3.
As a fifth-generation Californian -- cursed!
My ancestors lost Oakland in a poker game.

4.
"Her dermatologist is one of those Buddhist/
Evangelical Islamic/Psychic shamans."

5.
Maupin, Ferlinghetti and Tan could die, and their
Agents would just think they were not returning calls.

6.
"I've just been thinking way too much about those kids
Starving in all those other places.  What's with
them?"

7.
The nip-tuck, the titty balloons, the liposuck
Are each precursors to the bar-code of the Beast.

8.
"Your honor, I can't pay the court-ordered support
Because my new wife's children need yachting lessons."

9.
Feast without irony, how long can you attract
New meat to be slathered in coconut butter?

10.
"Once you sleep with him, it's a sure thing:  He'll
give you
A call-back audition for the part of the corpse."

11.
A prime-time television special with guest stars
Will not prevent Jehovah from spitting me out.

12.
My mother was breast-fed here in California.
Her ghost mouth lip-synchs all the twanging
rejections.


Anne Babson
TAR
ANNE BABSON was nominated by The Haight Ashbury Literary Journal for a 2001 Pushcart for a poem about her conception in the suburbs of San Francisco.  She lives in New York now, where both the martinis and the irony get mixed dryer and served up colder than they do in California.  Her poetry has won prizes and has appeared in numerous journals, including Atlanta Review, Red Rock Review, The Madison Review, Grasslands Review, Left Curve, and many others.