Beth Ruscio in Letters from a Killer
Dead again in
A Short Conversation
with Joan Burroughs
from Beyond the Grave
Murder works up an appetite.
Strangled, no less—those kitten kicks,
the faked tussle for the car door.
A girl gets banged around for real,
all that pretend terror. A night shoot,
Pearblossom Highway, factor
in the desert—3 AM’s nothing
like 3 PM. She’s not dressed,
she’s draped, in a low-cut handkerchief
they call a costume, just two swipes
of cerise to keep her grimace warm.
So cold, her gasps send up smoke
signals in the key light, not a wrap
in sight, no one to rescue her
save this mis-cast pretty boy killer.
It’s in the script—she croaks.
But he’s so green, he giggles
Sorry take after muffed take,
cracks his knuckles, giggles more.
Please kill me she shudders,
teeth chattering near his ear.
She nuzzles his neck like a filly
nickering to be put down,
bites off each syllable in
choke me baby do me, and him
with his big hands, You’re trembling, he purrs.
In the movies, murder, everything’s sex,
but really, she’s just hungry.
Beth Ruscio writes: "When we were kids,
and my Dad was on TV, we were rarely allowed to watch. He got killed
a lot. My parents didn’t want us to get confused. When I grew up, I
also became someone who got slaughtered on a regular basis on
screen. I was strangled by Gary Busey (Hider in the House), shot in the head sitting in
my pick-up (Letters from a Killer), and when I played William Burroughs’ wife Joan
(A Short Conversation with Joan Burroughs from Beyond the Grave), I
put a glass of gin on my head, Burroughs aimed his broken pistol at
the glass, and missed. Should it surprise anyone that I would one
day write of such things in poems?"
Michelle Bitting Abrams
About Beryl Mercer, Actress
Time was you could stroll down Hollywood
catch Great Grandma’s name flaming every cherry marquee.
As the long-suffering mother of All Quiet on the Western Front,
Cagney’s disgruntled mom in The Public Enemy, she made
the melancholy matriarch with her ocean liner hips
and squat stature, made the big brown spigots of her eyes open
over a son gone to war or the devil. What fans didn’t know:
how close she lived each sorrow-filled part—trouble rising up
the walls of her Deco apartment behind Musso and Franks:
the child lost to polio before his twelfth birthday; the no-talent
who drank and threw her money at willing starlets; the illness
that took her early with so many roles to spare.
Now here, on Sunset Boulevard, just shy of the gem-blue Pacific,
I roar past a bank, gas station, Starbucks: same plot of land
she got conned into trading for a Texas font of “tea”
that like so much else went dry. I’m thinking of her sagging jowls
and pursed lips; dark hollows drawn below the eyes, her glum,
faraway look belying a life of presumed glamour—features
my own face mimics on any sullen day when I might be seen
speeding across town, windows wide, a dry Santa Ana spiriting me
to the Musso and Franks bar—dark-paneled haunt of Faulkner,
Fairbanks, and maybe Beryl, who floats in on her small gossamer
finds a stool, a dry martini next to mine, and leaning into
the microphone of her skewered olive tells me how it really was,
just how thirsty a girl could get—all the stories I’ll never hear.
Michelle Bitting writes, "As a
fourth-generation Angeleno I’ve hardly scratched the surface of what
it means to grow up in Los Angeles, one of the original Noir cities,
to have roots steeped in all that post-war, post-atomic dread and
angst run-off that promises to keep morphing its weird shadow across
the 21st century. Heavily ensconced right now in Nicholas
Christopher’s (newly prefaced!) book Somewhere in the Night: Film
Noir & the American City—stay tuned as I sift and rattle the
poetic bones with a little help from my urban-dwelling, film-lovin’
friends. For the latest about publications, awards, and a decent
photo of me, visit
my Web site.