'When I Was a Girl Named Monica...'

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From Julianna Baggot's amazing book Lizzie Borden In Love.:

We will watch each other age
in front of cameras, in newsprint,

a public decay. It's already started.
Look at my new sway;

my body seems more ample
among the miniature shampoos,

the thin rectangles of wrapped soaps.
Look at the pale shifting of my skin

under the red eye of the ticking heat lamp.
And I've noticed your hair's gone white,

your face loosening.
                 I'm shocked

how can you still appear--
not televised, not some public memory

of the two of us swimming valiantly--
but the intimacy of teeth,

              breath and breathing.
And I carry you sometimes

              for a day or two,
like a bird hidden in a pocket

               and I imagine
that you know how I live.

     And while the bird shifts
and rustles and keeps one wet eye

on my life, I am more purposeful,
I stride.
     But today you see me here naked
standing in front of this hotel mirror.

You are someone who knew me before
I was the world's collective joke

about cigars, thongs, stained dresses,
when I was a girl named Monica.

I miss her much more than I miss you.

The riff about the bird is just gorgeous. Julianna's site is here. This piece is called "Monica Lewinsky Thinks of Bill Clinton While Standing Naked in Front of a Hotel Mirror." 

I posted Julianna's piece on Mary Todd Lincoln last week, mostly because that poem clawed its way into my skull almost ten years ago, and will not leave. This is the great thing about art--it enables people who you do not know to touch you in ways that usually only people you know can. And that power survives even death. I have been thinking about that "I know how I will die..." riff in the Mary Todd poem for, literally, years. 

I had the pleasure of exchanging a few nice notes with Julianna. It's nice to be able to tell people when, and how, they've gotten to you. All the poems in the book are written in the voices of seemingly "tragic" women. But Baggot empowers them with agency. The sadness is still there. But the taint of victimhood is gone. 

It's an amazing feeling, as a dude. It's like trying on different masks.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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