“Lamplit by Shirley Temple’s Late Films”

With midnight gone are your dance numbers with butlers and windmills, your lollipop song sung up and down the aisle of a silver plane, the pumping arms everywhere, the making little fists, and the stamping feet, gone too all your sly and estimable powers, and you could even play the erhu and speak Chinese. You chose who were to fall in love, and with your matchmaking, wit, and charm make of them love you as their wise child. Onscreen you were most comfortable commodified as this orphan, free to be everyone’s little girl out in those seats lit up by your silver image—and I wept as surely they did when you made an older girl walk from her wheelchair into her father’s open arms on Christmas Eve, its precious poignancy coming from knowing who was president and what was wrong with him. Even as your sphinxine mane of curls darkened, you still fed that vast red body of the studio not your own, while guarding it from debt and the depravity to come. Then its suits in desperation miscast you to death and from that marched a meaner people capable of world war and cold. They bulldozed your bungalow on the lot, and when there was nothing for you to do, you were forced to go to school at last and so exposed to the hormones of your kind and your moon face and breasts grew. And what there was to work with in the end was stunted body for a few kid sister roles, jailbait for David Niven, Cary Grant, Ronald Reagan, and Fort Apache, a B-picture body. And no matter how hard you preened in high heels, it was only to jump and drown yourself in That Hagen Girl while taking the hint with you. You kept coming back like that until dawn, unreeling what the television finally shone on my tossed sheet—the whore’s revenge, giving it away, every last dime.

About James Reidel

James Reidel is a poet, writer, translator, editor, and biographer. He has published a biography of Weldon Kees and is the author of two volumes of poetry. He has translated novels by Franz Werfel, the poetry of Thomas Bernhard, plays by Robert Walser, and a forthcoming three-volume collection of the works of Georg Trakl.