Strange Big Fish
Like birds of paradise, we pecked
appetizers at an Amazonian place
Felipe said everyone was raving about.
A rooftop dinner for Natasha, a dancer
from Uruguay, in Rio for her birthday.
So at home here with friends. At home
in her body. At home even with me,
the Gringo, five minutes into meeting.
Pablo palming my lap as he translated
dishes. Mostly strange big fish. Natasha
suggesting wines, fluent in Portuguese.
I hadn’t studied a word. Afraid to dig in
too deep. In a place too far away. Pablo—
seven years younger, seven inches shorter—
liked rescuing his big helpless baby:
What can we feed you tonight, Daddy?
Usually lost in the music of their words,
I gathered only names and cities: familiar
flowers that floated on a Portuguese river
too rapid to swim. Felipe insisting we stay:
Para la samba!
But we’d leave for Fortaleza. The calmer
Carnival. Baby steps for Pablo’s baby!
Natasha winked. A New Yorker who hates
crowds? I confessed I only came for Pablo.
Of course, she said. Her accent soft like her
shoulder’s curve, a sigh in the pre-Carnival
quiet almost as charged as Pablo’s fingertips
combing the hair on my thigh, her eyes
trembling candles in the dark. But won’t you
suffer? she asked. When the trip is over?
Neither of us answering. In either language.
Strange Big Fish
"I'm not your fucking grandmother,"
“I’m not your fucking grandmother,”
she told Rufus Wainwright.
When he tip-toed up at some event
to confess her Golden Girls Dorothy
was Miami sun in a dark childhood.
And surely she spat it like a Marine
Staff Sergeant—her real-life role
before studying for stage and screen:
Our Auntie Mame’s bosom buddy,
dramatically drunken, voluptuous Vera.
More glamorous but no less relentless
than the feisty liberal, ready for another
verbal brawl to gravy holiday dinner
with racist cousin Archie.
Always delivering a stronger argument
than any Republican retort: her
drop-dead deadpan—not drop dead
gorgeous like Ida Lupino, the petite
Depression-era starlets of her youth. No,
she was statuesque. Lady of liberties:
Divorce, gay rights—Seventies taboos,
too soon, too maudlin for mainstream—
an abortion? On prime time? Yes, and
just two months before Roe v. Wade.
There was Judy’s Dorothy. And then there’s ….
yours. You might’ve growled at Rufus, Bea.
But somewhere in Manhattan, 18 queer kids,
homeless, estranged, dream tonight in beds—
entrusted from your grave—tucked in
and warm beneath blankets, thanks to their
“not your fucking” fairy grandmother.
*Bea Arthur is a Patron of NYC's Ali Forney Center (for homeless LGBTQ youth.)