Originally appeared in Unit Circle #5

Bowie, by Leland Ray

In the airport, in a city like New Orleans (Was that where we had the campout with the marshmallow roast that night on the red carpet which burned with the smell of hyacinth incense?), Bowie frightens the passengers boarding a doomed airliner. His pink tutu contrasts-- stunningly--with his kneehigh buckskin leggings, and the blade, wicked twelve inches of hardened steel that it is, flashes brilliant in the sunlight streaming through the tall windows of the departure lounge.

Out on the taxiway the Mexican army practices close-order drill before storming the building. Their bayonets shine flickering like bloodred stars. Their scaling ladders lie forlorn and abandoned next to an ice cream truck; the tinkling of its bell is drowned out periodically by the jet engines whining off to distant cities: Nairobi, Cleveland, Tulsa. The ice cream man sells a fruit bar to Santa Ana, Mexican Generalissimo and President. The general smiles that winning presidential smile and says "Keep the change, mon ami." The ice cream man is confused, but keeps the money anyway; he speaks only Esperanto and Swahili, not French or English or ancient Sumerian. The general beams.

(And in the Spring for my birthday you gave me underwear of soft brown leather like Bowie's moccasins, and you called me "The Young Lion," the name the frontiersmen gave to Bowie, the man with the wicked blade. And I was hip, slick, and cool--tragically, you said.)

In the airport, now, Bowie orders a drink at the small bar which fronts on the South concourse: "Red-eye, by the bucketfulls," he says in a firm but calm voice, and he smiles.

The bartender, not knowing the reputation or the temperament of the man or the folly of facetiousness, says facetiously (but also with a hint of sarcasm), "Don't you mean bucketsfull, sir?" The long knife flashes silver like the strike of a silvery snake. "I believe you've split my hair, sir," the bartender says. His purple hair is parted to the skin from crown to forehead; a single purple wisp floats ominously to the polished walnut bar.

"Serves you right," says Bowie, and he grins his famous, much- imitated Alamo grin. The customers stand and applaud. "Encore, encore," they say.

Out on the concourse, the hyacinth girl sells her wares from a brown wicker basket. "Fresh hyacinths," she says.

Two nuns on roller skates stop to admire the freshcut flowers, and they pat the little naked girl on the head with hands that are strong and sad. "You need shoes, my child," one says.

Bowie raises the golden bucket of red-eye to his lips and drains it in one long gulp, and his Adam's apple bounces up and down. He draws the back of his hand across his mouth and rises. "To destiny," he tells the assembled customers.

They raise their margarita glasses to him in salute. "To your destiny," they say.

(On that final night you came to me where I lay asleep on the round bed which rotated, following the path of the sun and moon, and we named planets we saw through the windows of the much-windowed bedroom. You wore your best lace nightgown over the pink wetsuit and flippers I bought for you one year when you were interested in water sports. And in the morning I was left with memories and an empty rubber suit; I lay on a bed which rotated mechanically following the sun and the moon and the stars.)

Bowie stands his ground on the runway as the Mexicans mass for the attack, their scaling ladders and bayonets ready. The long knife flashes once more--finality is such a depressing word--and then the man in the tutu is consumed in red uniforms and powder smoke. Inside at the windows, the customers cheer his defeat.

The ice cream vendor starts his truck and drives slowly through the crowds of victorious soldiers: "Fruit bars, mes amis," he says, as they hand over their hard-earned pesos.

Unit Circle Poetry