Famous Men, Real and Imagined
Jim Naughten

Famous Men, Real and Imagined

(Our excerpt from Sarah Blake’s Mr. West appears immediately below. Click here to jump ahead to Jill McDonough’s “Oh, James!”)

from Mr. West
                  –Sarah Blake

Looking Back on Amber Rose

The question all around the internet was,
Is Kanye West’s Girlfriend Trashy?

Her birth name is Alyssa Audrey Rose Palmer.

On YouTube, the interviews are short and sometimes
raunchy as hell.
“I’m a virgin in my ass,” she said.

In other videos, all the ones where her face is
front and center, and she’s got blue lipstick, sunglasses
in the shapes of hearts,
or her bra out–

she’s chewing gum. Like a cow,
I think, in my eighth grade science teacher’s voice.

She licks her teeth while she’s making points like,
“I don’t have a stylist.”
Something along the lines of make sure they know,
“I style myself.”

Her interviewer responds,
“I live and die for that,”
in a voice I’ve heard on black sitcoms in the 90’s.

Someone in the comments writes
to women who watch this video—like me—


Do I respond?
Is he trashy?

Why do women watch this video of Amber?
Are they looking for the Kanye in her?

Girl, raised by her aunt, with a name as sunshine as hers—Mary Lakes.
Girl, Portuguese, Italian, African, Irish. Former
exotic dancer. Featured in music videos of Young Jeezy and Ludacris.

I remember hearing that she might marry Kanye in the Caribbean in January, 2011.
I remember thinking, Is she trashy as all get out, right on Kanye’s arm?

Suge Knight

Suge is pronounced like sugar without its –ar.
Liar turns lie. Color turns cull. Whisper, wisp.

In August 2005, Kanye hosted a party before the Video Music Awards. And Suge got shot there.

MSNBC reports:
          ambulance, fire and police officials swarmed
the shooter was described as black and wearing a pink shirt
Giddy. Frivolous.
Treasure, trezh. Splendor, splend. Shiner, shine.

In March 2010, Suge is suing Kanye for money, but a car accident keeps him from his court date.

Perez Hilton reports
a quote from Knight’s lawyer:
        Nobody likes Kanye West anymore.
Even though he’s still selling millions of records, everybody’s sick of him.
Error, err. Geyser, guise. Razor, raise blaze.

The bullet took the light from the front of the gun. The bullet took the light into the leg and bone.

I think Suge’s alight with something like grief.
Can Kanye save him from something like that?

Kanye as a Quantum Particle Yet To Be Observed

Is there room in a biography for what didn’t happen?

December 2010, Miami—Kanye’s once scheduled court date with Suge Knight.
January 2011, Dominican Republic—his once rumored wedding to Amber Rose.

Less than three hours to fly from one place to the other, to fly
over the Bahamas that fall like inch worms from Florida’s peninsula,

to fly to a country that shares an island with Haiti, that nearly touches
Port Au Prince with its border like a series of shark fins.

How would their marriage have begun? Following such trouble,
the slow pulse of the Earth destroying the Earth. But then,

how funny if Suge’s missing earring had ended up on Amber’s finger.
Photos of her in the tabloids as she leaves a car, stands from a table.

If Kanye’s life collided, collapsed. If he woke one morning
and, having made no decisions, all the possibilities came to be.

In Song

After his 2002 car accident, Kanye West wrote, produced, and recorded a song.

“Through the Wire.”

He rapped every word through his wired-shut jaw.

In the first verse:

How do you console my mom or give her light support
When you telling her your son’s on life support
And just imagine how my girl feel
On the plane scared as hell that her guy look like Emmett Till

Recently, Kanye compared himself to Emmett Till again.

On one website they explain: “discussing the VMA incident . . . he compared the backlash he faced to the murder of Emmett Till, the Chicago teenager who was killed for whistling at a white woman in Money, Mississippi.”

People have been outraged, but Kanye must

feel a connection to this boy. And because of Kanye,

Emmett’s story is on the internet again and again. 65 years later.

Kanye knows what appropriation is.

It’s Hard Not To Be Moved

I can tell—it’s starting to get to my husband.

Often he’s with me when I’m doing research.

Today I went to copy-paste a comment into an e-mail, and he stopped me.
He said I needed to take both comments,
that it was significant that there were only two and this is what they said.

So this part is for my husband:


Comments (2)

1) Wow, Kanye looks mad fuckin lame in that pic. At least he [mostly] makes good music. 

Posted By: SS87 (Guest) on December 04, 2010 at 01:12 AM

2) fucking awesome!!!!….no, really…i hope he dies….i do, i hope he goddamn dies…fuck him, goddamn concieted hypocrit muther fucker…the only ratings he will deliver is if he gets decapitated on live television during half time of the super bowl…i’d actually watch that

and don’t feed me any of your sympathetic bullshit…he’s an untalented con artist and racistthat deserves to be beaten with a hammer and thrown screaming from a helicopter 

Posted By: mikey (Guest) on December 04, 2010 at 04:21 AM

We’re both still surprised at the racism and violence and hate.
We’re full of fear

but that’s not what fearsome means.

Because Kanye Isn’t King Kong or Emmett Till or a N****

When I admire my small, white nose, I’m Taylor Swift.

Too, if I’m made of red candies and floral underwear,

if I spend a day descending all the stairways I can find.

It’s one way to be a woman, a woman being a girl.

I could meet the many white knights, with their hands

around swords, their ears perked to the motion of men.

If I ever thought life was a whistle, I thought it twice.

Jesus Walks

This poem could start, “I love you,” instead of ending there.
It could start, “Music.”

The key to this poem is connecting this sentence,

I want to talk to God but I’m afraid because we ain’t spoke in so long
                           from the lyrics of Kanye’s “Jesus Walks”

to this sentence,

Show ’em the wounds
        from a making of video that follows
the making of the third music video
for “Jesus Walks”

Kanye said, after the first two videos, “I still felt like I didn’t have the hood, and that’s what Jesus walks for, it’s for the hood.”

I can think, have thought, of great line breaks for that quote. Already had to think of punctuation.

The man who said, “Show ’em the wounds,” is, I imagine, a friend of Kanye’s. But Kanye’s not around for this:

“I’m here with my n****, Romeo, looking smooth and shit. You know what I’m saying. Official, n****. How many times you got shot?”

“Nine,” he’s grinning and lifts up his shirt.

“Nine times goddamnit, and he ain’t even no rapper, bitch.” Pause. “I’m with my other n****,” the man to his left, “how many times you got shot, n****? Tell ’em.”

“Five times.”

“Show ’em the wounds. Show ’em the wounds, show ’em the wounds.” And he adds, “I ain’t never got shot but my n****s did.”

Stars all across my paper. Stars when I look at something blindingly beautiful. When I fall. When I first learn of stars.

Someone on the production crew yells out, “Come on in pigeon holders.” Someone says, “I got dirt and blood standing by.”

Many voices behind Kanye’s repeat, “Jesus walks.”

An actor—the one lit on fire for the video, the one carrying a cross big enough to carry him—says to the camera, “I hope people take it the right way.”

My favorite music video of the three has this man in it.

Maybe for the fire behind Kanye that rises and recedes in that hallway like the breath.

Maybe because when the police cut open a pack of cocaine in the trunk of a car filled with packs of cocaine, a dove comes out, shaking powder from its head. I count at least fifteen flying from the trunk.

A woman sings “I want Jesus,” with the fullest lips I’ve seen in years, a voice like no woman I know.

I believe in her, in Kanye, that “Jesus walks for them.”

But what is it when I believe bullets leave the shapes of stars?

Kanye, if only I could write a poem for you and not about you.

On November 10th, 2007, Donda West Died

On November 10th, 2008, you were between shows. November 9th, Dublin, Ireland. November 11th, London, England.

By ferry and car, the journey from Dublin to London takes about eight hours.

By plane, about an hour.

I have to imagine you flew. But maybe not. Maybe you spent two hours, three hours, on a ferry.

                                                     The journey between two points is such a straight line.

Maybe you needed to be on the Irish Sea. The blue of it. The blue looks miserable.

The very shape of the sea is like a face, mourning, gagging on a moan.

And it must be salty, like all seas.

Though for a sea to leave cliffs instead of beaches.

                                                            That tells me it’s killed its fair share of mothers.

The Irish stop clocks at the time of death. They stay with the body day and night until the burial. They recite poems. They sing. They cry and drink. They kiss the dead body.

Given the autopsy, at least some of these, you were unable to do.

But the first anniversary of a death. I know it.

We sometimes burn a yahrzeit candle. It burns for 24 hours, or 26, or 3 days, more. It’s white and burns in a tall glass so you don’t have to worry about leaving an open flame over night.

                                                            Do you worry about your house burning down?

You spent the nights around the anniversary of your mother’s death on a stage that looked like the universe.

Planets. Shooting stars. A Galaxy—pink and perfect.

You were glowing in the dark. And you were black in the dark.

And a monster came on stage to eat you.

                                                                     To gobble you up. As mothers say.

I Want a House to Raise My Son In


I feel common.
There are people who want the house I want.

And if my desires are not unique,
what is?

A combination of my desires and my face
and the mud in the yard I don’t yet have?


It’s the worst time to be feeling this way,
when my legs are getting caught
on chairs and other places
I try to leave.

My hips just aren’t able to hold myself
together anymore, so ready to bear

his terrible head—as when terrible
was used to describe God and Godly


I can hardly make it through.
Sleep comes and bends
my hands into positions of habit,
pinching the fluids that should move
like little fish through my wrists,
and shit. Shit. If I were my hand,
I’d be drowned. My hand is one
more part of me, maybe the last,
to realize I’m deathly ill, in that,
I could die from this.


I have made Noah promise he will save me over the boy
if it came to that.

I’ve told no one this.

It is my one non-maternal act, my one feeling
that reminds me of the selfish child I was
when I thought how I would have spit and peed
on the Torah if I’d been a child in the Holocaust,
if it would have saved me,
which, only as an adult do I understand,
would not have saved me.

I’m afraid I will be a horrible mother because
I am a horrible woman.


Can I write anything after that?
Can the poem continue?
Can I return to my love for my son?

Can I tell how I imagine burying my nose
in his soft, small belly,
how I imagine making him the best room,
the best crib and chest of drawers?

One day we will redecorate his room as
he wants. And we
will play basketball in the driveway

at the house—
the house I want so badly for him.


I lie in bed, as I can hardly leave it now,
and read books about Kanye. I page through
the one about Kanye’s Glow in the Dark tour.
It reminds me of my son’s bones, glowing white
in ultrasounds, in a more wretched darkness.

Donda made it seem easy in her memoirs.
To love Kanye. To unconditionally love him.
She even knew he was a boy. In utero.

My son remains my mystery.
The ultrasounds revealing him
well-formed. No clubbed foot.
Black stomach means he can
swallow. Black bladder means
his kidneys are working. Heart
can be seen in detail, valves,
deep inside me. His hair grown.
His nose like mine. Arms, legs,
moving. Everything moving.


I want to lie in the grass of my yard with my son.
Every part of him in the sun. Every part of each of us.

Dear Donda,

I wonder if you were bored by the white woman.
I wonder if, when you thought of the white woman, you thought of Under the Tuscan Sun.
I wonder what you would think, seeing the dead white women in Kanye’s “Monster” music video.
I wonder what you would think of me.


On Kanye West’s website is a still frame from his movie—
Kanye carrying a woman from an explosion filled with as many pinks as yellows and oranges
                 (and a red like a flaming heart, if a burnt thing reddened, if light were pushed through the skin).

Just below it, there’s a Twitter feed. It shows three Tweets at a time. Any Tweet hashtagged with Runaway, runaway, RunAway, etc.

The first Tweet when I visit today:
“I txt my Mom & told her I love her, she said I coulda came downstairs to say that… I dnt think she noticed I was gone LMFAO! #RunAway”

I didn’t understand at first. So literal. So misplaced. She had actually run away. From her mother.
And she was laughing about it.

As if,
in front of Kanye.

Kanye’s Circulatory System

                  On the Two Year Anniversary of the Death of My Grandfather Allen

The blood helps because the heart helps because the electricity moves us.

Kanye, my circulatory system looks like yours. So you too have a soft vein
too big for your temple, a pulse in your thumb. You’re still losing your mother.

One reporter called your mother’s death “more data for the live stream.”
I apologize for him. He thinks, maybe, two years is a long time.

Last year, in Princeton, I tutored a sixth grader in every subject. As he learned
the systems of the body, I did too, beginning with the diagram of the heart.

What new words did you learn then? What new procession of breath
did you practice when I was teaching a boy how to say vena cava and aorta,

when I drew hearts on a chalkboard for him, day after day, and erased,
with my finger, the holes for the pulmonary veins to come in, to

fill the left atrium with the blood we could not draw? You recorded a song.
I’d love if you’d recorded a song. I almost forget again that your heart

looks like mine. You’ve heard the pulse in your ears then. You know
wush is not a foolish way to describe it. You miss her and I miss him but

surely I cannot say if, when you think of death, you, Kanye, think of the heart.

Dear Kanye,

I can’t draw a parallel today between you and the branch I saw on the sidewalk. It wasn’t like the tree branches here—it was like one you’d see on the beach, maybe only a New Jersey beach, but I think others, too. And it resembled an arm. That’s what I remember thinking. And it wasn’t the first time something on these sidewalks near my house reminded me of an arm or a hand. There’s a leaf I remember distinctly. My mind is so quick to see these dead pieces of trees as lonely parts of the body. And my mind tries to connect this stone-grey arm to you. My mind sees that where the branch broke from the tree (if it is a branch at all and not chopped from the trunk), there is wood that curves together to the sidewalk in such a way that fingers might. And my mind asks if these are not the fingers that move freely in a dream and play some kind of music for you, or run along the top of your head in the manner of one who loves you. Are they not the fingers that begin to resemble your mother’s?

I realize some days I shouldn’t write about you.


The Awl: “Kanye’s Circulatory System”

Boston Review: “Suge Knight”

#GOODLitSwerveAutumn: An Anthology of Independent Literature About Kanye West: “In Song” and “On November 10th, 2007, Donda West Died”

Sentence: “Dear Kanye

Oh, James!
                –Jill McDonough

Dr. No

A woman introduces herself before James
has a chance to speak. But who remembers Trench. Sylvia
Didn’t my mother
warn me about trenchmouth? Didn’t
we all practice kissing pillows, our hands, each
other, before we ever kissed a boy? Trench
presses her open
mouth to James’s open mouth, looks
like she’s gumming him to death.

The girl
is Honey
talks like Audrey Hepburn
as a little girl, has
no muscle definition,
appears to be sucking it in.

The locale: Jamaica. There are
no Jamaicans. One girl

might be
sort of

Of the evil
Chinese, including
Dr. No, most
are white
people, their eyes taped like
Katharine Hepburn’s in The Good Earth,
Mickey Rooney’s in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.


From Russia with Love

The opening credits, projected
on bellydancing women’s silhouettes,
foreshadow the hot gypsy girlfight to come.

Love interest thinks that she’s a Russian spy.
She’s being duped by Spectre. Whatever;
she’s pretty, but the action here is Gypsy girl-on-girl.

We’re in the Balkans, seeking refuge in a gypsy camp.
Two gypsy girls, in love with the same gypsy,
must solve their difficulties the gypsy way:

this means, thank god, a catfight. Two
mute Sofia Lorens tie up torn skirts.
This exposes their tan thighs,

long and gypsy-lithe and smooth. They circle, their hands
out at their sides, fingers claws. They pounce,
then scratch, and pull each other’s hair. One terrific close-up

shot: they wrestle in the dirt, low-cut blouses revealing
cleavage pressed to sweaty cleavage while
they grunt and writhe. Imagine this on the big screen! Luckily,

James is able to tame them in a night.
By morning, they’re a peaceful scene, cooperating
on breakfast, their terrible teeth now well-employed

smiling, biting thread off at his cuff.

Goldfinger I

He still wears the fifties pork-pie hat
in the intro, to the best music ever put to film:

dang ditta dit dang dit ditta
dang ditta dit dang dit ditta
MAN-AU mah nau nau

White dinner jacket, red carnation. He does that thing again:
calmly lights a cigarette while things explode.

Everyone else is running.

Goldfinger II

About to be shot, he throws a lamp at the villain in the bathtub.

Auric Goldfinger. Sounds like a French nail varnish.

Pussy Galore’s the hotshot pilot who won’t fuck him.

She’s a bad guy, or possibly
a feminist, working for the bad
guy because it’s hard
to find work for your titsy all-girl flying circus
in the world of virtue and right.

Odd Job: Korean thug with the discus bowler hat
that cuts off people’s heads. Bond electrocutes him, too.

It’s kind
of complicated.

When Pussy finally fucks him, she is turned good:
Lead into gold, saving Fort Knox.

Thunderball I

It’s a bomb. A code word for a nuclear device.

Sorry. I didn’t mean
to ruin it for you.

The intro: Bond
through the rifle scope.
The pork-pie hat.

The first fight: the bad guy pretends
to be his own widow. A man
in heels and stockings, beating
Sean Connery with a poker.
Like that’s never happened before.

The opening credits are still
a work in progress. Not
just ladies in silhouette, swimming.
Men in scuba suits shooting at them
with spearguns. Pre-slo-mo, it’s all
ungainly, unsexy. Flippy feet and hands.

We’re in a health clinic, sure
to rape some nurses. No, he threatens to get one
fired unless she does him in the steam room, next
to the room labeled “IRRIGATION.”

Why I will always love James Bond,
no matter who plays him, who gets raped, who gives in and cries
Oh, James: he fucks the nurse and leaves, calls out
See you later, irrigator!

Thunderball II

Domino wears slutty bathing suits: zebra
bikini, black tank with sheer inset that shows, for
a second, her nipple, my hand
to God. I pause
the DVD, flickered her nipple just
to be sure. She wears the black and white surplice
bandeau wrap bikini to have sex
with James. James
wearing scuba gear.

Oh, James.

They shoot one shark
to distract the others, and he swims into them,
a swarm of sharks, a cloud of blood, to find
the sunken plane.

He skims past sharks like cats, like
the lady assassin in his bathtub. She
is naked, asks for something
to wear. He hands her
shoes. She’s thinking about Pussy:
James Bond, who only has to make love
to a woman, and she repents, returns
to the side of right and virtue.
But not this one
, she says, and shoots.

You Only Live Twice

The trailer shows
Bond making
out with Orientals, hints,
Bond Rises in the East.

Why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?

The Chinese girl he’s tasting
doesn’t get it. Or maybe she’s
just being polite. You think we bettah.
He tries to explain, comparing Russian
caviar to Peking duck. She pities him, says,

Darling, I give you very best duck.

Roald Dahl wrote You Only Live Twice, including
the lines in the Japanese bath house. Tiger Tanaka,
our man in Japan, says Remember
James, in Japan, men come first.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

This Bond is not our kind.

a) he’s George Lazenby
b) he falls in love
c) he gets married
d) he wears ruffles

He meets his bride when she tries
to kill herself. Not really. Who tries to kill
herself in a silver and blue
caftan? By wading into the waves? Wearing fake
eyelashes? This is not even
a cry for help.

The opening credits: an hour glass rippling
with Union Jack. A man in silhouette, dangling
from a huge minute hand. Greatest hits slip down
like sands through the hour glass: Trench, Sylvia
Trench. Honey Ryder, Pussy Galore, Domino. Aki,
the Japanese girl who always comes last.

This Bond fights a big black man who moos.

A midget sweeps the bad guys’ lair.

Bond slaps the would-be suicide, tells her to get dressed. She
looks at him. Falling-in-love flute music swells.

1969: Unknowable. The mooing: for sure racist, but for the whites, then, was it funny
or scary? What’s the story with the midget? Was the slapping how they fell in love?

Diamonds are Forever

Weapons: a shoji screen, a bikini
top, machine guns, a mud bath, a mouse
trap wallet. Thrown scalpels,
a surgical lamp, boiling mineral
mud, a scorpion. A cremation
oven, a brass urn, a bomb
in a suitcase. A canal
in Amsterdam. Bond, unconscious,
in a pipe buried as part
of a pipeline. An automated seam
welder. A gas-chamber elevator.
Two gymnasts in bikinis named
Bambi and Thumper. Flaming
shishkabobs. Another bomb, this one
inside a cake.

How the CIA talk in Vegas:
This is The Quarterback. Operation Tight End

Live and Let Die I

George Lazenby
is an idiot. Offered
the franchise, he said no. What a life,
to kick yourself again and again for not being
007. To watch Roger Moore say Bond, say
Darling, say Moneypenny, say M and Q again
and again for the next seventeen years.

Live and Let Die II

The opening
sequence: black women
naked, nipples and all, more naked
than white women. Flames,
black women with eyes
wide open, their heads
on fire, eyes open with terror, or
some Voodoo trance. Black
women with big afros, small
afros. Black
women’s faces turning
to flaming skulls. And Introducing
Jane Seymour.
women in silhouette
dancing, snake-like, then
frenzied. One painted, primitive white
diamonds snaking over
her arms, long legs.

Live and Let Die III

Bond has the first espresso maker M. has ever seen,
and Bond’s Italian counterpart, a lady, in the closet.

Uses of the magnet watch: Take M’s espresso spoon
from his saucer. Deflect
a bullet at long range. Open
the closet. Unzip Agent Caruso’s sparkling blue evening dress
down to her white lace panties. Fetch
the compressed gas capsule that inflates
the bad guy, who’s black, pops him like a bloodless innertube.

Live and Let Die IV

Bond in Harlem: a secret network of black men, walkie-talkies,
pimpmobiles, secret exits, pre-recorded diplomatic speeches, every
black man you see a bad guy. Even the friendly cabbie who says, Hey,
for twenty bucks, I’ll take you to a Ku Klux Klan cookout!

Bond in the Carribbean, fucking the black double agent in a calico
bikini, then threatening to kill her. But you couldn’t. You
wouldn’t, not after what we’ve just done.
He keeps his Walther
PPK at her chin, says I certainly wouldn’t have killed you before.

When he deflowers Jane Seymour, she’s stunned, cries the physical
violation cannot be undone
, but in a minute she wants it again. After
they survive the blacks, the Voodoo rituals with her as the half-naked
sacrifice, she sighs, white dress, pale thighs: I feel like a complete woman.

Oh, James.

The Man With The Golden Gun

What’s scary: radiation, biological warfare, black people, and this guy
who might sell the secret of solar power to the coal and oil companies.

Where were we.

The bad guy has the gun. Golden bullets, golden
gun. He rubs it all over his naked girlfriend’s face.

Where were we.

The Bottom’s Up’s a bar. Bartenders in black lace panties, breast-obscuring
hair. Raised red beds behind the bar. Bartenders on their knees on the beds.

Where were we.

Two girls in schoolgirl uniforms protect James with karate. They don’t speak English,
and they are fourteen, but they are more use than every female agent we’ve ever met.

James boards an outboard, aims the rotors at the bad Hong Kong karate guys, says
What you might call a Mexican Screw Off, gentlemen. What?

Where were we.

The redneck sherriff is back. His wife is named
Maybelle, a joke about hicks. Also my grandmother’s name.

The blonde agent, Goodnight, screws up again and again. Clumsy, she turns on the laser
with her bikini-clad butt. I’m sorry! I didn’t know! Don’t they get the same training?

Where were we.
Where were we.
Oh, James.

The Spy Who Loved Me I

He’s on a mission, sir, in Austria.
Well, tell him to pull out, immediately.

Chalet, firelight, a blonde on a white fur cape. Then
007’s watch prints out a label-maker strip, and, darling, he has
to go. Yellow ski suit, red hat, white goggles,
more cowbell than anyone’s
recommended daily allowance
for cowbell.

Four guys in matching ski suits, semiautomatics
instead of ski poles. Don’t worry: Bond’s poles double
as flaming dartguns.

A cliff, and then the cowbell stops, everything
stops except the sound of wind, of winter. A small
yellow figure against white vastness, blue sky.
Skis cast off, poles rising up behind him, Bond
is in freefall, unfettered, tumbling into just
silence. Seconds pass. And then the sound of parachute:
Bond’s Union Jack parachute opens with the valves of someone’s
trumpet in some studio somewhere, now blaring

ta da TA da, tadada, da da tada da

The Spy Who Loved Me II

On the submarine, dismantling a nuclear device.

We need its detonator to break in
to the sealed control room. You know
how that goes. Sailors sweating it, Bond’s
hands shaky, playing Operation. He keeps it
steady, pulls out in time. Now
they love him, repeat after him, give him
anything he wants: Hand me that number six
detonator. Aye aye sir, number six sir. Did you fix
that twenty-second fuse? Yes sir, here it is.
Plastic explosive.
He holds his empty hand
out to the sailor, full of faith
in the sailor, the sailor
who loves him, who hands him
the plastic explosive. Plastic explosive.

Moonraker I

When the pretty French pilot with the heart

of gold betrays the bad guy, shows James the safe

in the Louis XIV clock, her evil employer

asks her to leave. She leaves. Then he

releases the Doberman Pinschers. She has put

aside the slutty low-cut frocks she wore

before she met James, wears a white dress, long

sleeves, pleats, white lace up her throat to run

through the woods, woods filled with mist, with

slanting sunlight, branches that tear at her face

and hair, sweet dress, the score rising with her ragged

breath until, in slow motion, the dogs take her down.

Moonraker II

I saw this in the theatre when I was seven. Dr. Goodhead
was a badass. Bond asks:
Where did you learn to fight like that? NASA? She shakes her head:
No. Vassar.
At the end of the movie, they’re fucking in space. Houston calling
Dr. Goodhead,
Houston calling, confirm your position.
Houston’s preparing a live video feed
to the White House
and Buckingham Palace. James Bond and Dr. Holly Goodhead have left their stations;
their headsets float
provocatively above their empty seats. They’re suspended, wrapped in white
terrycloth space
blanket, bare legs kicking in slo-motion, gravity-free. My God,
what’s Bond doing?

Q tilts his head at the monitor: I think he’s attempting
re-entry, sir.
Seven, my whole desire,
all I wanted from adulthood:
to understand why everybody laughed.

For Your Eyes Only

When you break into the drug lord’s lair, there’s
the swimming pool, girls. A Pacific Islander wears
a red hibiscus behind her ear, a turquoise bikini, tassels
bouncing at her hips. A white woman with beaded
cornrows, off-the-shoulder tank, dives in;
a black woman in a red one-piece looks on
from her lounge chair, looks like she just
got high. A periwinkle swimsuit crawls
up a brunette’s ass. She walks toward
a tall white girl: white bikini, camel toe.

The sound of heels on flagstones. Disco.

They dance on the crabgrass. The Asian’s
in lilac, reads a magazine, smiles. A strung-out
blonde fights a blonde man; he agrees
to play paddle ball. When the white girl
in a white one-piece sees the suitcase is full
of cash, her eyes widen
like a girl’s. She
whispers—Wow!—the one line spoken by a woman
in this scene. Pam Grier, or the one who looks
like Pam Grier, wears big sunglasses, sucks
her stomach in. She’s seen the suitcases before.
She grins, raises her eyebrows; the drug lord,
balls bunched to one side of his tight striped
trunks, tosses a stack of bills to her lap.

Everyone is having a good time.

When he gets hit with a dart and bellyflops, dead,
in the pool, the women laugh at first—
our drug lord, always goofing around—then
understand, cry out, reach for each other. James
shoves men in the pool, knocks bad guys around
with sunbrellas. This is their life: getting high, piña
coladas, paddleball, all the waist-chains
and swimsuits they need, that wiggle that makes me
think they all have yeast infections, UTIs. Happy
until James shows up, kills their benefactor, leaves.
In the last glimpse we have of the pool, their whole
world, they gather together, lift his bloodied corpse
tenderly out of the pool.


You know, things are going pretty good. Sure,
your dad named you Octopussy, then killed
himself, but you’ve pulled yourself up by your
garter straps: diamond smuggling, your own
all-white-girl Indian island cult. They rise
gleaming, naked from your swimming pools
to the sound of more young women chatting, laughing,
wrapping each other up in high threadcount
towels, gold and pink saris, a hundred shades of rose.

Where did you recruit all these lovelies?
Doesn’t he get it? Did he ask Blofeld, Goldfinger,
Drax where they got all those matching futuristic
suits, the blinking lights at headquarters? No. I train
them, give them a purpose, a sisterhood and a way of life.

James is suspicious. How can it be this good? In crime?
In business.
It’s 1983, you fool: I diversified into shipping,
hotels, carnivals, and circuses.
Oh, Octopussy, don’t
do it; think of Gwendolyn and Midge, a dozen more
in matching scarlet spandex, the blonde
who ties her sheer pink sari to a balcony rail
and tumbles, graceful, to the ground. Don’t make
the damn martini, go to bed with Bond.

Here’s what you’ll get: three dirty men
breaking in with their knives and yo-yo saw
blades, a turbaned thug with a missing eye, no teeth,
a redneck’s giggle. Bond’s in your bed an hour and it’s
trashed, saw blades everywhere, satin pilows torn, aquaria,
teak honeycomb lattice smashed. Shirtless, sweaty
men covered in feathers lunging after you, mahogany side tables
sawn in half. Your pink silk sheers, your gilded
octopus-shaped bed, its pink satin upholstered
octopus head. Your thirty-foot ceilings, priceless
stained glass dome, your marble tables laden
with ripe tropical fruit, all sawn up, broken, gone.
Don’t do it, Octopussy: you shake that
martini, next thing you know you’re breaking
bottles over strange men’s heads, shooting
half-naked men with poisoned darts in your dressing room.
It all starts here: the Russian generals slipping
nuclear warheads in your circus cannon, duplicate
cabooses, Bond panicked in a clown suit, the works.

You’ll have to use your whole girl circus, your dancing
girls, your acrobats, your human pyramid of girls in matching
spandex. You’ll have to break out the sheik headdresses,
the ropes, the galley slaves, fake prostitutes to first distract,
and then knock out the guards. Your whispering
pole balancers, your tiny snub-nosed pistol, your nets,
your elephants, all your sword fighting skills. Is it worth
your veiled half-naked trapeze artists’ efforts, Octopussy?

Octopussy. Don’t do this, please. Take a look
at his old man’s mouth, the lewd looks
he gives Gwendolyn, poor Midge. Don’t
give up everything you’ve worked for, don’t
do it, don’t you do it, no—Oh, James.

A View to a Kill

Christopher Walken, being
Christopher Walken, says

I’m happiest. . .

in the saddle.

The evil world-domination plot involves
starting earthquakes to flood
Silicone Valley. Also, Bond makes the Bond Girl

Grace Jones is the exotic ethnic thug, for the most part
silent. Looking at Bond she says I’m sure
I’ve seen him before.
What is she,
retarded? She just flung
a poisoned butterfly fishhook at his cabaret
companion, parachuted off the Eiffel Tower
to get away from Bond.

Here’s what’s new for 1985: When Bond and the
Bond Girl sneak into the mine, they steal
miner helmets, miner
coveralls. When a bad guy sees
the Bond Girl’s taupe high heels, Bond says
Women’s Lib: they’re taking over the union.
Which seems to do the trick. Later, Walken
floods the mine. He shoots, laughing, at the drowning men
in his employ. We’ve never seen a villain kill
his workforce, never seen a man in glasses, suit
and tie aim a machine gun at drowning men
in helmets, dirty coveralls. 1985: Reagan’s smiling,
shaking head. Mortgages 13%,
unemployment 7.5.

The Living Daylights

Timothy Dalton lands his flaming paraglider on a lonely
woman’s yacht, lonely woman sighing, saying If only

I could find a real man.
In Afghanistan,

we see Soviets imprison and execute
Afghanis without trial, like bad guys do,

trade bushels of opium, handfuls of diamonds for arms. So Bond
joins guys who look like Osama, who smile, helping the blonde.

At the climactic cello recital in London, the mujahidin
arrive late, in pakols, burnooses, shalwar kameez,

daggers, bandoliers. We had some trouble at the airport.
When they saw James last, he was helping them thwart

the Russians by bombing that bridge, and they all waved
their smuggled rifles. They smiled, knew things were going great.

License to Kill

The Colombian drug dealer has scars from knife
fights and acne. He whips
his woman with some kind
of pocket-sized alligator tail,

feeds Bond’s best friend
to a great white shark.

So this time it’s personal.

Bond breaks into the remote-control sub filled
with bags of coke, stabs the bags so they release
eighty-million-dollar clouds of milky water.

The clouds rise to the surface, expand,
opaque; white bubbles, sound
of bubbles. Later, Bond hijacks a helicopter, beating
the pilot with a plastic-wrapped cube
of hundred dollar bills. When the plastic tears, bills fly
around the cabin like snow in a snow globe, cocaine in water.
Bond grabs a handful of cash from the air and tosses it
aside: he doesn’t care if it goes out the door. Who cares, he
won, he got away. He swats at one bill clinging
to his face, grins for the first time since

his best friend was fed
to a great white shark.

Goldeneye I

Judi Dench is M: I think
you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic
of the cold war.

Junkyard of Soviet statues, busts
of Lenin, arms, a disembodied
Bond-size Lenin hand. Long
shadows, sourceless light: cue
the creepy fog, a raven’s call,
a crow’s. Rusted-out red
star, rusty columns, a wreath
of wheat and stars. Strong worker
heroes, muscular men and women out
of Rockwell Kent. Three Lenins, one
capped, another trapped in scaffolding.

In the turncoat 006’s evil lair, James mocks
his loyalty to his dead parents, calls him
“little Alec.” Oh, please, James, spare me the Freud.
I might as well ask you if all the vodka martinis ever silence
the screams of all the men you’ve killed. Or if you ever
found forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women
for all the dead ones you failed to protect.

Goldeneye II

After causing the deaths of hundreds of soldiers, who wouldn’t
want to make love in the freshly mown hayfields of Cuba?

Surprise! The Marines were in the hay the whole time! They looked like hay!
Maybe you two would like to finish debriefing each other at Guantanamo, hmm?

Guantanamo, 1995. Darling,
Oh, James. Darling, Darling.
Darling, what could possibly go wrong?

Tomorrow Never Dies I

The opening sequence: silicone chips
up close, circuitry silver on red, rising
up, form of a woman’s body, Bond Girl, silhouette
of circuits, smoke. X-rayed bullets, pistols,
rifles, then the girl’s smooth cheek becomes
a planet, earth, sun rising up behind it.
A solar system, now in negative; jewels
float like satellites, then rush though what
we’ve learned, since Tron, is cyberspace: tv
flashing quickly by, and then, behind it, sheets
of code that make an urban landscape, through which
we’re always speeding, sometimes falling.

Tomorrow Never Dies II

Bond and Wei Lin hand-cuffed together on a motorcycle.

She’s sidesaddle behind him, racing
through the alleys of Saigon, black Range
Rovers on their tail; now
she’s straddling the bike, Bond’s ass, her right arm around him, his left
holding hers: they each have half
the handlebars. Umbrellas,
fruit stands, bridges, bicycles, crowds.
Shouting left! and turning; she crawls around to straddle
Bond’s crotch
and look behind them, grabs
a knife, cuts open tailgates; in their wake: blue
plastic barrels of water, a lunch
cart with a wok, an open flame, truck stacked with cartons of Snap
Dragon fireworks. The black SUVs bring the fire to the fireworks
and crash, so the cartons blow up, go off
from back to front like dominos.

I watch this scene again and again. In slow motion,
Wei Lin’s hair’s like waves, like seaweed, trees in the wind.

The SUVs have wrecked, so now a helicopter chases
them; a lumberyard, truck
full of workers, boards, they back up, do
a wheelie, make men run. Her hair flies up, swirls
around Bond’s face. Over a line of parked cars, up
on tin roofs, in and out of open rooms; a woman ironing,
a clothesline, blue shirt pressed against their faces.
Boardwalks, little houses, everything around them getting shot;
we’re on the bike with them, we’re leaning left, we’re tilting
to the right. She swings around to ride on back again so they
can jump across the street, break through a ceiling, interrupt
a couple having sex; second-story porches crumble underneath
them as they pass. They come down on a truck of Heineken
in cans, start racing through the streets; the villagers
in coolie hats are running, looking back in terror
at the helicopter, pressed down by its wind. How many times
have we seen this: Asian peasants; violent, unnatural
wind? She can’t see the helicopter, so
she has to switch back, straddle Bond to see. I think
if she wore her hair like mine she wouldn’t have
this trouble. Construction site, dusty street, a gate. Dead end.
They turn, her hair still glossy, smooth. When they look
at each other, she looks at his mouth; this is how you know
she wants him, not the straddling. They take
a clothesline to the helicopter, skid out
underneath it, its terrible wind, so they can sling
the clothesline like a lasso, David’s slingshot, get it
tangled in the rotors, jump
together down a well. The helicopter tries to rise, gets
caught, and crashes: explosion, rubble, burned down town, but they
are safe and cool and wet, together, in the well, her shirt,
at last, transparent, clinging. She’s still cuffed to him.

The World is Not Enough

The nuclear physicist—Christmas—
has a great rack. So Bond gets
Christmas coming, Christmas coming
early, Christmas coming once a year.

Oil pipelines through Turkey, nuclear
bombs, Stockholm syndrome, terrorists—
Robert Carlyle—The Full Monty, Trainspotting
in a black leather trench coat, right eyelid drooping, right
angled red scar on his forehead
signifying “freak.” His only goal is chaos.

A bullet stuck in his brain, killing
off his senses. Touch, smell, he feels
no pain, he can push himself harder, longer,
than any normal man. The bullet will kill him, but he’ll
grow stronger every day until he dies.

Frankenstein. Dracula. Monsters
Smile when you cry, walk calmly
right behind you when you run.

On terrorist monster unfeeling freaks, in 1999, M says

This will not stand.

We will not be terrorized by cowards.

We’ll find the people who committed this atrocity.

We’ll follow them to the farthest ends of the earth if needs be.

And we will bring them to justice.

Die Another Day

The movie starts with Bond getting caught
in North Korea, unable, for once, to fuck
his way out. The naked ladies
in silhouette, black silhouettes of guns—
this time that alternates with James
in a filthy prison, James
refusing to talk. Scorpions, syringes, primitive
waterboarding. A man laughing, ducking
James’s head into dirty water. The camera is
with James, under the dirty water, again
and again. The camera can’t
do anything to help. A woman
strings him up by the hands and holds
a scorpion to his face. A woman made
of ice, a woman of fire, a woman of melting
ice, water droplets filled with Bond
under water, the water hitting the women
of fire, the water turning to steam. Then men
haul him out of the water to kick
the shit out of him. Fingers of ice stroking
flanks of ice. Time passes. Bond has
long hair, a beard, a filthy t-shirt, pants
he’s been wearing fourteen months.
About to be executed, he’s exchanged
for another prisoner, a smiling, clean
Korean wearing a freshly laundered
jumpsuit. Freshly shaven. Sleek
and healthy, fresh from an American
prison. Lucky guy.

Casino Royale

In the theater we laugh at the gratuitous brown girl
on a white horse, the horse spreading her legs,

bouncing her bikinied breasts. Did they laugh
in ’67, when the faux-Japanese masseuse’s

spread legs framed a prone Bond? Or at Moonraker’s space fucking,
‘79? Felix, from the CIA, stakes Bond ten million in poker, asks

Does it look like we need the money? It takes us a minute, together,
in the dark, to look past the gambling, losing, see he means

us, and Iraq. Stacks of blue million-dollar chips nothing
next to what we pour into the desert while Felix plays cards.

In San Francisco, 2006, we expect the bouncing breasts from Bond,
forgot he always has something to say about danger, fears, who

our enemies are, or ought to be. Timothy Dalton helping
Oxford-educated mujahadin beat Ruskies. Roger Moore

in Harlem fighting spooky voodoo blacks. The new one’s balls
are beaten with a knotted rope while we squirm

in the audience, think of Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib and our balls.
Bond as cultural comment, collage of our anxieties. Who knew?

Who remembered? Does it look like we need the money? No,
we guess it doesn’t. He catches us by surprise, makes us laugh

at him, at ourselves. Oh, America. Oh, money. Oh,
masculinity, military, balls. Oh, James!

Quantum of Solace

name in the world. Octopussy‘s better. Goldfinger.

So much
depends upon one rogue CIA agent.

killed. The song is pretty good.

They name
the Bond girl Strawberry Fields, Goldfinger her to death in oil.

When James
thinks the CIA has fucked him, fucked around, he says, a little hurt,

That’s what
I like about US intelligence—you’ll lie down with anybody.

Oh, James.


See the scared and tattooed sex slave’s scared.
Touch her slave tattoo. Name it. Show you care

or don’t mind. Or sort of think it’s kind of hot.
Trembling, terrified, touched by your—what,

tenderness?— off to the shower she slinks.
Hurrah! scared sex slaves always think

when you slip into their showers: More
But the bad guy will kill her before

long. Another dead one you failed to protect.
The real story here is the anti-Bond’s. Tech

Jesus. Once another double oh. Now
he’s a blond monster eaten inside out.

Imprisoned insurgent, ten steps ahead, everything
we hate and hate to fear. We did this to him.

We do this all day. World wide.
We make us up our own bad guys.


Ripple(s): “Goldeneye II”
Gulf Coast: “Tomorrow Never Dies II”

Seven Kitchens Press published a limited, hand-stitched run of an earlier version of this manuscript.

Sarah Blake lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and son. Her poetry about Kanye West is forthcoming in Drunken Boat, Jerry, and Barrelhouse. She is the recipient of a 2013 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Pushcart prize winner Jill McDonough’s books of poems include Habeas Corpus (Salt, 2008), and Where You Live (Salt, 2012). The recipient of NEA, Cullman Center, and Stegner fellowships, her work appeared in Best American Poetry 2011. She teaches poetry at UMass-Boston.


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