Tomb of the Unknown Celebrity



You were sexy.
I mean, you must have been.

You must have stirred
a noticeable need—never
in a majority of the audience, of us,
but in a sizeable plurality. For real,
as maybe people said
in those days.

Whichever they were.

For real and
for a while.

It was a charming while,
I guess, and then that time all drained away.

In your retirement
what was left for you?

Did you dream the impossible dream?
Write the occasional postcard?

It must have been strange, suddenly
to have so much time for yourself.
And stranger yet that we had none for you.

Strangest of all was the calm vast and
resilient enough to absorb all you had,
and you had it all, even
plans for a comeback.

Even a paranoid fantasy.

That shadow
of the palm tree
lurking on the stucco wall—why didn’t it
look to you far more sinister than it did?

Whatever happened to that sexy knack you had,
the knack of coming to life on cue?

Through this day’s din
and the haze that amplifies the din,
and reduces it to online rumination,
I can hear your voice, almost, warm
and empty in the way that tells us

you were just this regular person
with this marvelous talent.
What we saw was what we got.
And it was never, in its moment,
not precisely enough.

The moment is so thoroughly
gone that I have no idea which it was or
who I was then, but whoever I may have been

I’m sure
I had an intimation
that whoever I am now
would miss you,
and I was right.
I do miss you.
We’ve all missed you terribly
since who could possibly know when,

and standing here,
before your vaporous monument

doesn’t exactly soothe the anguish of our longing.

Far from it.
In fact, I realize
—and, by the way, thanks for the insight—

I realize,
as I was saying,
that the point of assembling here,
together, today, is to feel for quite possibly
the very first time the full impact of your absence,

which is your legacy
and belongs to each and every one of us, or will,
one day, for you were the best kind of celebrity,
the very best, an example to us all.


Carter Ratcliff is a poet and art critic. He recently published his first novel, Tequila Mockingbird.

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Further Reading

 February 20

Edward Lansdale does not represent the “Road not Taken” in Vietnam, he is the crystallized essence of the willful blindness that led us there.