If I don’t drive around the park,
I’m pretty sure to make my mark.
If I’m in bed each night by ten,
I may get back my looks again,
If I abstain from fun and such,
I’ll probably amount to much,
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.
What can one say about Dorothy Parker that hasn’t already been said?
She’s an icon, a feminist, a civil rights activist, a depressive, an alcoholic, a fighter, a brightly lipsticked mouth saying things ladies simply don’t say—or didn’t, before she showed us we could.
And a damned fine poet.
The problem was choosing my favorites . . . The best I could do was choose the ones that I liked best today. * If I’m missing your favorite, lay it on us in the comments!
Song of Perfect Propriety
Oh, I should like to ride the seas,
A roaring buccaneer;
A cutlass banging at my knees,
A dirk behind my ear.
And when my captives’ chains would clank
I’d howl with glee and drink,
And then fling out the quivering plank
And watch the beggars sink.
I’d like to straddle gory decks,
And dig in laden sands,
And know the feel of throbbing necks
Between my knotted hands.
Oh, I should like to strut and curse
Among my blackguard crew….
But I am writing little verse,
As little ladies do.
Oh, I should like to dance and laugh
And pose and preen and sway,
And rip the hearts of men in half,
And toss the bits away.
I’d like to view the reeling years
Through unastonished eyes,
And dip my finger-tips in tears,
And give my smiles for sighs.
I’d stroll beyond the ancient bounds,
And tap at fastened gates,
And hear the prettiest of sound-
The clink of shattered fates.
My slaves I’d like to bind with thongs
That cut and burn and chill….
But I am writing little songs,
As little ladies will.
Neither Bloody Nor Bowed
They say of me, and so they should,
It’s doubtful if I come to good.
I see acquaintances and friends
And making enviable names
In science, art, and parlor games.
But I, despite expert advice,
Keep doing things I think are nice,
And though to good I never come—
Inseparable my nose and thumb!
Lilacs blossom just as sweet
Now my heart is shattered.
If I bowled it down the street,
Who’s to say it mattered?
If there’s one that rode away
What would I be missing?
Lips that taste of tears, they say,
Are the best for kissing.
Eyes that watch the morning star
Seem a little brighter;
Arms held out to darkness are
Shall I bar the strolling guest,
Bind my brow with willow,
When, they say, the empty breast
Is the softer pillow?
That a heart falls tinkling down,
Never think it ceases.
Every likely lad in town
Gathers up the pieces.
If there’s one gone whistling by
Would I let it grieve me?
Let him wonder if I lie;
Let him half believe me.
Say my love is easy had,
Say I’m bitten raw with pride,
Say I am too often sad—
Still behold me at your side.
Say I’m neither brave nor young,
Say I woo and coddle care,
Say the devil touched my tongue—
Still you have my heart to wear.
But say my verses do not scan,
And I get me another man!
A Certain Lady
Oh, I can smile for you, and tilt my head,
And drink your rushing words with eager lips,
And paint my mouth for you a fragrant red,
And trace your brows with tutored finger-tips.
When you rehearse your list of loves to me,
Oh, I can laugh and marvel, rapturous-eyed.
And you laugh back, nor can you ever see
The thousand little deaths my heart has died.
And you believe, so well I know my part,
That I am gay as morning, light as snow,
And all the straining things within my heart
You’ll never know.
Oh, I can laugh and listen, when we meet,
And you bring tales of fresh adventurings, —
Of ladies delicately indiscreet,
Of lingering hands, and gently whispered things.
And you are pleased with me, and strive anew
To sing me sagas of your late delights.
Thus do you want me — marveling, gay, and true,
Nor do you see my staring eyes of nights.
And when, in search of novelty, you stray,
Oh, I can kiss you blithely as you go ….
And what goes on, my love, while you’re away,
You’ll never know.
If you’d like to hear her read some of her other poems, records can be found over at Dot City, a website devoted to Dorothy Parker’s life in New York.
* I’m apparently feeling pretty feisty for someone who had four hours sleep last night.