“Tallulah You Are Not Mine”

by Carrie Chappell


“In my time I’ve scrambled many a commandment, upended many a statue, but I’ve never been a kept woman! You can lay to that, Long John Silver!”

—Tallulah Bankhead


A woman in my workshop
Once told me that the way in which

I had adopted you & Al Copeland
For my poetry was convenient

But not true that I had made you
My own that in my work you were not

Yourself & you weren’t (all of this
From someone who writes to Elvis Presley

But let’s not stir the man from his Graceland
Let’s not crucify the crucifying besides)

She was right I had not invited you
To my pity party no RSVP

I had swindled you in with whiskey hatched
You in drops of my own dark water

Demons & so it seemed more legitimate
Than lie I thought you wouldn’t mind

Of course I don’t know you
But neither do the others

Who lilt your name among their acres
Because Tallulah you are sure fire

Fantasy scandal up & down
Woman hardly known

But famous for cartwheeling
Through her own pity parties

(See we can commiserate)
Seems you’d call in your minions

Late night to hold your hand
Through your own dark water

Terrors & were they convenient
But not true & that’s why like

All other things in America
We wanted to burn you up

Nail you down we needed
To bleed you punish you

For our own puny problems
Yet bless your heart we made you

Our baritone swan I keep seeing it
Happen to women we puff your names

From our lips not letting you breathe
A breath not yours we steal you

To give us back our own joke of a life
Tallulah you must know what it is

To be this country’s pillow
Sham what it is to have your name

In lights & then be quickly
Lit into we want you wild

& breaking our rules while we say no-
No we are your keeper

So we rinse you of our dirty habits
In tabloid Tide & dream you more

Innocent than our children
Than our search history

The media has gotten worse
Your words would have ruled

Twitter but you wouldn’t have been able
To dodge the swinging hammers

& I bet you were dodgy as a child
I was too that’s why I am still

Outwitting the neighbors
Why I go back to this woman

In my workshop how she was
Pumped up with pomp

Taking me for her own
Convenient but not true

She who didn’t want me
To have you no one ever did

Tallulah you are not mine
As you were not yours

No matter what Southern Belle
Hell we both escaped the boundaries are

Still written where is your voice
& where is the river that sings

Of their Tallulah Bankhead
I know they tried to shut you up

They tried with me too
All those church bells

Tallulah I don’t want to keep
You I want to conspire Pssst!

Let them think we are listening
Let them think we are

Crawling back to their pity party
No RSVP you & I damsels in dark

Water distress convenient
But not true let them make

A place for us next to them
Let them see our hands

Fondling the albums
Of fond memory

Then let them hear us
Slam the door as we leave

To curdle the night with monologues,
War cries and filibusters1

Let them watch as we confetti
The hymnals let them cringe

As we crush all the hickory nuts
In their bellyaching backyards



1. This language is from “Exercise on the Trapeze,” the opening chapter of Tallulah Bankhead’s autobiography Tallulah.





Carrie Chappell
photo by Nataly Darashkevich

Carrie Chappell is a writer, translator, editor, and educator. Some of her poems have appeared in Cimarron Review, cream city review, FORTH Magazine, Harpur Palate, Leveler, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, SWWIM, and those that this. Her lyric and book essays have been published in DIAGRAM, Fanzine, The Iowa Review, The Rumpus, The Rupture, and Xavier Review. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Carrie is interested in the exploration of feminine personae and the narration of lives of women as they confront conflicting nostalgia for and injury perpetuated by Western structures of prejudice, particularly those apparent in her homeland of The U.S. American South


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