A Man's World, 1966 / Michelle Castleberry

“Hair and teeth. A man got those two things he's got it all.”
—James Brown

The woman just out of the frame
could be adjusting a wreath or crown
from the way your eyes roll up
under the weight of some blessing
or coronation, some syncopated call.
Good God! 

Instead, your attendant takes out
a series of yellow and pink hair curlers
before shaping that righteous bouffant.
The broad Apache cheekbones cup the light
and your face tilts like a saint’s.
Watch me! 

The dark spindrift of hair and full mouth,
the heavy torso of a kouros under the Japanese robe.
I don’t know karate but I know cuh-razy!
It takes a lot of man to be this pretty.

Not yet the white noise of the crowd,
not yet the hot lights or the banshee cries
that come from a place
not even you recognize.
There’s still time to hear the sound of
a theater holding its breath,
the popgun snap of chairs folded shut and
stacked, cramped wallflowers shunned
off the still drumhead of the floor.

Until then, your dresser breathes and hums
around the bobby pins in her mouth.
She is barely heard over the
phantom music of the set list in your head.
You run the changes and tumble
the songs like dominos, like dice, like coins.

Based on Diane Arbus’ photograph “James Brown at home in curlers, Queens, N.Y., 1966”

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