Issue 5 / Poetry

Poetry by Susan J. Erickson


Marilyn Monroe Imagines Her Life as Menu Items at Schrafft’s


          Tomato Aspic

I was an abandoned passenger, my father

a train departed before I was born. My mother’s

mind softened like aspic unmolded on a warm plate.

She took to wearing a nurse’s white uniform,

believing she had power to cure illness.

In Rockhaven Sanitarium, mother said, “Radio waves

are destroying my brain.”

From the orphanage window

the RKO Studio sign—tower atop globe—

beamed bright waves on me.


          Chopped Egg Sandwich

American sex goddess, innocent

as white bread with trimmed crusts.

That was who I agreed to be. My eyes

stayed Norma Jean blue,

but the rest of me? My hair was a scraggly field.

It was straightened, bleached, dyed,

shaped, trimmed, permed. Makeup

camouflaged the bump on my nose.

My dumpling chin was sculpted,

and I was renamed.


          Clam Chowder

My gum line was too high. To conceal

its indecent pink

I was coached to lower

my upper lip when smiling. I practiced

before the mirror, my lip quivering

like a child eating chowder with a fork.


          White Angel

Truman Capote and I drank

White Angels—half gin, half vodka.

Truman kept his hands

around the drink.

I was his beautiful child.

When we danced he held

my wrist so I wouldn’t get lost.

If I were Snow White, then he was Gossip,

my witty dwarf.


          Apple Pie

In my favorite poem of his, Mr. Yeats cautioned,

never give all the heart. I laid down a crust

over what was bruised and blighted.

Drawn by the scent of sweet cinnamon,

men ordered me: dessert à la mode.

None of them the father.

Moth from the moon pinned to the past—

attempting escape, I tore myself apart.




Marilyn Monroe Sits for Andy Warhol in the Afterlife

Andy stands behind the easel, toothpaste-white

tennis shoes visible. He wants to paint me

as an act of forgiveness

for selling my lips like carnival booth prizes

and shelving my image

like a can of tomato soup.


But the paper bags of his lungs

collapse with sobs. I lead him to the blue chair

of happiness where I sat. He imagines

he can re-film the scene where he hid under the bed

and refused to go to his father’s wake. Instead, I comb


his baby-bird hair with my fingers the way a mother does.

Opening his shirt, he asks me to bless

the bullet wound and scars on his chest

that resemble, he says,

a Byzantine cross.

Instead, I take the brush from the easel


and touch

its sable hairs to his forehead, nose, eyelids, ears.

We are here, I tell him, to learn to be ourselves.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.


Above the blue chair

a thumbtacked notice

with curled corners:

Chair Can Collapse Without Warning.


I dip the brush in crimson paint, stroke color

like antiseptic on Andy’s chest. With Venetian gold,

Andy paints the suspension bridge

of my clavicle, up the throat’s ladder

onto the cliff of my chin.


For now, we are the calm

and chaos of sunrise and sunset,

the shimmer of amber,

the roar from the lion’s mouth.



Susan J. Erickson admits to “poetic multiple-personality syndrome” having assumed the persona of a host of women while completing a manuscript of poems in women’s voices. Poems from that series appear in 2River View, Crab Creek Review, Museum of Americana, The Fourth River, Naugatuck River Review and Literal Latte, as well as in anthologies such as Till The Tide: An Anthology of Mermaid Poetry.  Selected by Oliver de la Paz.

Image © Suzanne LaGasa via Flickr Creative Commons.