A Gawky Girl with Braces

She and her mom are having breakfast at the Courtyard Marriott
………….in Hattiesburg, MS, and just as I walk in, I see Billy Collins
at a table by himself, so I walk up and say, “How are you today,

Billy?” and he says, “Never better” and gestures to the empty chair,
………….so I get my raisin bran and sit down, and I notice that every time
someone walks by and asks Billy how he’s doing, he always says,

“Never better,” which seems to cheer everyone up, so I resolve
………….to do the same from now on, and as we’re eating, Billy tells me that,
at the height of Charlie Chaplin’s fame, there were all these Charlie

Chaplin lookalike contests, and once Chaplin himself entered
………….and came in third. Then again, who we are and how we look
are not always the same: in Henry James’s “The Real Thing,”

a painter hires a genteel if down-on-their-luck couple named
………….the Monarchs as models since they’ve lost their money and must
earn a living somehow, so the Monarchs pose and the painter paints

and tries to fulfill the commission a publisher has given him
………….for a series of portraits of aristocratic types, though the pictures
he paints of the Monarchs are all bad, so in the end, he lets them go

and uses instead two members of a lower social class, Oronte,
………….an Italian, and Miss Churm, an ill-mannered cockney who “couldn’t
spell and loved beer. ” In trying to pose as the aristocrats they

were, the Monarchs were being too logical, as was the painter
………….until he wised up. He was making the same mistake that architect
Thomas Stedman Whitwell made in the early 19th century when

he proposed a “rational system of nomenclature” that associated
………….latitude and longitude with certain letters of the alphabet, so that
New York City becomes Otke Notive and London is Lafa Vovuto,

the idea being that a traveler would know instantly where he was
………….once he was given the name of his present location and translated
it backwards into geographical coordinates. Everything’s up to date

in Lafa Vovuto and Hattiesburg as well. I bet Charlie Chaplin lost
………….that lookalike contest because he went as himself and not the person
with the exaggerated tics that endeared him to audiences the world

over: the eyebrows, the silly walk, the mustache, the cane and derby.
………….I’m not a cook, but I love working the waffle machine at Courtyard
Marriott locations everywhere in the U.S., though I don’t want

a waffle this particular morning, so I make waffles for the other
………….guests, who think I work here, which I do, at least for a while,
including the gawky girl with braces, who is very happy,

it seems, because every time she looks in the mirrors that line
………….the wall she smiles as though she already sees in the reflection
her mother’s calm and intelligent face, her perfect teeth.

David Kirby

David Kirby

David Kirby's collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. Kirby is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” Kirby’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His latest poetry collection is Get Up, Please.
David Kirby

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Author: David Kirby

David Kirby's collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. Kirby is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” Kirby’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His latest poetry collection is Get Up, Please.