Prey on Me: A Crown of Crots
by Christa Forster

I.

When I graduated from high school, I received a greeting card that said “If you reach for the sky, you’ll find your star.”

Looking for myself in the constellations, I culled the databases, searching endlessly and whimsically for my condition. Which is whacked.

My condition is whacked.

And the fact that I do this searching, searching, searching is whacked, as well.

I’ll get to the concretes soon, but first let me contextualize: This and that stuff happened, and I have done everything I can to disdain this stuff, misremember this stuff, justify this stuff. Here’s a way: this stuff that happened to me? It’s no great shakes. Look to your left. Look to your right. Now look to your left again, and notice the prettiest girl in the room.

(You’ve been discovered.)

What happened to me happened to her, or will happen to her, and also happened to the other ones around her. The differences emerge in the degree, in the number, in the stars that are shining for us.

 

II.

Somewhere a star shines for me.

I majored in English, minored in Spanish, sang in the choir, worked the dorm snack bar, organized bake sales for battered women, patterned paraplegics, wiped the butts of the wheelchair-bound, graduated from graduate school.

I earned a galaxy of heartbreak and an MFA.

In response to my fierce combo, or should I say my enigmatic elixir, or maybe my sadistic stew of intelligence, beauty and cynicism, men have sexually harassed me countless times.

I know: Sexual harassment is a downer. It sure is!

So, too, is a woman’s rage.

And that’s what I want to talk to you about tonight, why you’ve been summoned here this evening by the powers that be inside, outside and around you. I’ll do my best to be interesting. I know you’re looking to have a good time.

 

III.

I’m not looking for a good time.

I’m looking for a Letter of Recommendation.

I’m walking through a ghetto in Southern California. The slum surrounding the tower the famous poet dwells in still stinks of riot-rot from twenty years before. Black dudes hanging off car hoods eat me with their eyes, but I am looking for a Letter of Recommendation, and these black men can’t do anything for me.

The white homunculus in the ivory tower has offered to do something for me.

I’m wearing a dress — okay, a vintage forties dress — and I am twenty-two, and therefore nervous, fresh and hot. Pellucid skin, penny-colored hair, oceanic eyes. Pretty as a Pre-Raphaelite picture.

I can’t help the face, the body my parents gave me. They developed on their own. But I’ve been working on my mind, and my mind burns strong and bright.

My mentor sent me here because, she says, without a Letter of Recommendation from a better-known poet than she, from a better-known school than ours, I don’t stand a fair chance.

She says the famous poet remembers me from when he visited our class.

I remember he used the word simultaneously a lot, which I later learned is a tick of many poets, famous or not.

I guess it’s the concentrated form that makes all this stuff happen simultaneously.

 

IV.

All this stuff started happening simultaneously.

I guess the famous poet was concentrating on my form when he said he’d write me a letter of recommendation for graduate school.

How could he not? he said, with work as good as this!

He waved my sheaf of papers to and fro and set them on his desk.

I smiled, relieved.

Of course, he said and stood and walked across the room to where he had me simultaneously up against the wall, beneath a massive poster of “The Sensual World” by Kate Bush.

And when he laid his hands on me, I let him, because he was a man of the Word, and I was in need of being blessed.

 

V.

There were more ones of many, and some of them were of no small account.

Another one happened to be the father of a bride.

I was not the bride.

I barely knew the bride.

I was there as a family friend, a close friend, almost a daughter.

The father of the bride did not speak the English language, and this was the reason I had to truck with him at all.

“Translate,” he insisted.

“He wants me to translate,” I said.

“Cuando bebes vino, estás mas bella,” he said.

“When I drink wine, I am more beautiful,” I translated.

When he stole me away, after giving his daughter away, he said, “Your flesh is the word I want to read forever. Your mouth is a poem.”

 

VI.

“Don’t worry about your poems,” Jabba the Hutt said. “You’ll make it because you’re beautiful.”

 

VII.

“How often,” Father Rob beams at the other priests filing into the rectory, “does a woman this beautiful grace our leather seats?”

The other priests stare darkly.

“That’s right,” Father Rob quips, “You don’t see it. She and I are undertaking an Independent Study; we are working on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, our founding father.”

The name of this study is Hermeneutics and Psychology.

“Don’t go getting the wrong idea,” Father Rob demurs to the brothers’ chagrin. “The Spiritual Exercises! As in what is the path to glorifying God?”

The other priests huddle and thrum.

“Discernment, brothers. Discernment is the path. Discern her marine blue eyes, her red hair, her illuminated skin. She reminds you of the Virgin, doesn’t she?”

I stand and offer my hand in greeting: “My name is Maria,” I say.

The other men of the Word do not say “pleased to meet you.” Because they aren’t.

Because high tea time is upon us, Father Rob invites me to join him in the glassed-in patio of the rectory, poised at the edge of the bluff overlooking the defunct Howard Hughes airbase. Below, the Spruce Goose is concealed in a hangar.

The help serves fat red grapes, fresh squeezed orange juice, water crackers and pepper jack.

I stare out the window at the Pacific. “Star upon the ocean,” I say and point to the horizon.

“Maria!” Father Rob gasps.

I ignore him. I’m looking for a rock. I’m looking to keep that star in sight.

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