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Life Arts

Dream Lovers

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My Pretty Baby Cried She Was a Bird: Sandra Dee
My Pretty Baby Cried She Was a Bird: Sandra Dee
(Image by shewasabird.blogspot.com)
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At first an athlete in his father's image,
Next a lawyer on his father's trail,
Then a priest after his father's shadow,
Along the way secretly a teenage actor
In search of his mother's youthful dreams.
Imitative lives, a host of masks, applause.

For what? Applause for what?
For a jump shot from the top
Of the key, a closing argument
In defense of false innocence,
The forgiveness of fabricated sins?
Why would an actor want the part?

Why would the boy want the actress?
Though he dreamed of you, Alexandra,
You too were not who you seemed,
Not Sandra Dee, not a happy-go-lucky
Pony-tailed blond nymph on the beach.
You were a devastated soul on display.

Yet at fifteen he stole your photograph
From the Bainbridge Theatre in the Bronx,
An image that took him far away
From where life had set him down
Between parents lost in a war
They didn't start but didn't stop.

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What was he to do, Sandy,
Wandering through this terrible maze
From which he could find no exit?
In your white Gidget bathing suit
You seemed like a way out to him
An innocent beauty to his secret shame.

What he was guilty of, he didn't know,
Only that he must serve time
For the crime of false appearances,
The guilt of wanting to become
Not who he was, but one who must,
Through pleasing fictions, save them.

The truth of his desire had to be hidden.
So your photo, that shadow of a shadow,
He hid beneath his mattress,
While unknown to him, shortly before,
Your step-father hid you beneath his body,
Your mother a silent passive accomplice.

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This he learned only years later
When you emerged from hiding, a bruised
And anorectic middle-aged ex-alcoholic.
Your photo again, this time staring
From the cover of People Magazine,
Your dark sad story laid out within.

And the coincidences at the time:
Your birthday the same as his mother's,
Herself a thwarted aging actress living
In hated Bayonne, your New Jersey birthplace.
His daughter, a fifteen year old blonde actress
Playing Sandy in "Grease," Sandy playing Sandra.

Surfaces, of course, weird yet telling.
Your name not really your name,
Your face a face to face the world
To say, Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee,
When in truth you were an actress
Playing a part in an amnesiac's dream.

So too the boy slowly lost his way
As he disappeared down a hall of mirrors,
Trying to remember to forget something.
Imitative lives, a host of masks, applause.
All in the service of a terrifying fear
Of being no one but the boy he was.

Yet nothing prepared him for the shock
Of the mirror image you were for him,
A lover, a sister, a soul mated to vague pain,
Springing from a childhood wound.
Your face the face of a hidden poet
Addressing the world for the first time.

Look, the mirrors are all broken.

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Edward Curtin is a writer whose work has appeared widely. He teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His website is http://edwardcurtin.com/

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