First Love

I cannot go near a beach without thinking of Louis
Armstrong’s mouth. And, naturally, when I go to the
beach I hear music. Malibu waves all seem to roar
through the canine and premolar gaps; Cannes rolls
gently through the incisor gaps. In every shell I have
ever out to my ear—Jack Teagarden.

When I stay home, and listen to records all the
beaches of the world, all the old rockingchairs, seem
to be inside a gigantic prognathous black head:
Waikiki, Jones Beach, Beachnut Gum. And every
time I turn on the shower I pretend it is the spitvalve
of his trumpet. It droppeth as the gentle rain from
heaven etc….

I love music and the beach. What else is there? My
father hates my records. My mother will not speak
to me. You can see the beach and the sea from the
old rockingchair where I sit. I am so young they are
undecided about my sex; I think I am a girl. During
the winter I go to school. Guam.

But every summer we go the beach. And Louis
Armstrong is in all the wet bathingsuits on the line.
His mouth. I think that he is the real Pope. Perpetual
mate. Howard Hitler lives next door. Louis Arm-
strong lives here.

In bed I dream of Louis Armstrong’s mouth upside-
down. He and a blond lady who is white are getting
out of a diamond car. I am jealous of her. Why am I
jealous of a picture in a dream? And we are all inside
his wonderful mouth anyway. I love hurricanes.

When they bought me a kitten I called her Louis
Armstrong. Now I have a cat named Louis Armstrong
—and a dog and a goat and a horse and a myna bird
and a snake. All their names are Louis Armstrong.
The ups and downs of the waves are the cusps and
grades and slants of his teeth in his mouth. I am too
young to imagine his old body in detail but how
could you be too young to love it. Old Rockingchair.
We are all in his mouth in a wonderful way. I love
typhoons and twisters and smouldreens. One will
get me. One will get you. They all will get us all. Even
Louis Armstrong. Louis. Satchmo.

from The Carnation (1972)