Harlow & the Fertility Rite


“Not only was Bello still jobless, but his newfound status as a movie star’s stepfather had increased his infidelities. Enraged and disgusted, Mother Jean contacted a lawyer in secret until Bello discovered her scheme and threatened to sell pornographic photos of Harlow for display. Mother Jean’s plan to divorce Bello was dropped.”

—Bombshell, David Stenn


They call my stepfather the Sicilian pimp. Bello is sitting on my bed, picking at my string necklace. “I find you to be a very dirty angel,” he says. “You couldn’t be half-naked like that in my Italy with all the scorpions and spiders.” I tug my necklace free. “There is no hiding in the chestnut trees. We have no lying down in the groves of oranges.” He slips a photograph from an envelope. A girl with hair the color of milkweed stands semi-nude on a rock, the wind blowing her filmy shawl. Primitive mountains rise around her and she could be a virgin about to be sacrificed. The priest cuts her jugular and severs her spine. The girl goes limp. Bello asks through his mustache, “Would you like this on display?” I tell him an esteemed photographer wants me to pose for him in Griffin Park. “Your public might not use the word ‘esteemed’ to describe a pornographer.” His hand swallows mine. “You must convince your mother to drop her plans to divorce me.” Another photo. The sun brightens her buttocks cut with blue sage. Why should I hide from being seen naked? Shame grew when the tree I call rape started fruiting. Bello, go tend those twisted branches and coax movie contracts from their buds. At twelve, my stepfather’s hand tasted me. Beautiful, darling. I want to sit at your feet. When the camera’s eye finds me, the creek like a long, slender wing beckons. I throw myself into the current that leads to the sea. It means nothing to me—my body, the blue-hued alabaster I’m submerged inside of. The virgin has been quartered and gutted. Her insides smell humid and the organs are a deep russet. Crops will grow, vines will heave with fruit. Birds are singing in the fire poppies one after another. Darling, here’s another bloom. I’m not hurting you.




The Lady & the Prize Fighter

Harlow & the Jewish Adonis


“Max Baer. He was the Jewish Savior and possessed the most powerful right hand in heavyweight history. The son of a hog butcher his awesome strength came from swinging a cleaver.  Harlow would play the lady and Baer the prize fighter.”

—Bombshell, David Stenn


They say he has the body of Adonis and the mind of a sideshow barker. I can’t bathe the savor of him off in the overflowing tub where water lilies float. I scour the red marks his mouth leaves on my neck. The onyx reek of a beast. They say Max killed a man in the ring with his right hook. The heat from his chest tastes of the place where the cows he sledge-hammered settled onto the ground. The scent of his first slaughter strangely appealing. We will act together. I am enamored. I don’t want hawk moths and Cleopatra butterflies. Crickets so loud you can hear them miles away. I want the brute. His saltiness. For years his father butchered pigs and went mad from listening to them cry out for their lives. He tried to rub the sight of what they’d seen in the Great Death Pit of Ur from his eyes. I use the scented hotel towels to take the bloodied smell of my perfume from him. His wife waits in the lobby. The Jewish Savior has licked me everywhere. My eyes have been washed. Lovemaking is the  tang of leaves melting into the damp earth, the long roots of the yucca, the imagining of black ants pyramid-building. But fucking is a dragon. It wants every inch of you. It takes my green bones in its teeth.




Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Harlow & the ‘Dumb Supper’


Old Hollywood is buried in absinthe-lubricated twilight. It is always the clouding hour, the turning of deep green into milk liquor. The on-screen lovers watch from their obelisks for jealous wives and husbands. Sightseers pay spirit guides to find them Rita Hayworth and Douglas Fairbanks’ unquiet souls. They come from the East, these visitors who serve the dumb supper—filet mignon and champagne. Watch them smooth the white linen and set fine china before the tomb. They ask their favorite star Rudolph Valentino who he has married in the netherworld. What is the best time of the month to conceive? Might they cast a spell of desire on the broad-shouldered Cecil B. De Mille? Should they sell up and move into the city? A brother’s mind isn’t right. Oh, he loves animals and insects far too much. He’s had night screams for a year. Old Hollywood bumps into a stone basin filled with the liquor of stale rain. For a silver dollar, a struggling magician haunts Forest Lawn, shaking pebbles in a bucket that mimic the rattle of bracelets

The shade of Jean Harlow walks in a see-through negligee. Her thoughts drift with her tuber rose perfume. The cat Celestine keeps her company. Her yellow eyes tell Harlow of herself. Harlean in a wicker stroller bridled to an unsmiling Shetland pony. Harlean under the pear tree. Her gramp’s black cars with hearse-like glamour. The lost street. Everyone’s feet shoed in white. I eloped so long ago. The Dunes’ honeymoon and climbing the sand camels. Acting’s desert to trek. Lake Michigan’s lacy ghost water washing onto the frozen shore. I never knew Jean Harlow, Harlean. They called me Baby. I signed my letters ‘me.’” Old Hollywood speaks through weeping to necrophilia. A Great Dane guards Old Hollywood’s crypt. Dark trees stir in their ancient burrows the vapor of woody almonds. Old Hollywood buries its legends in grottos of forgotten orgasm. Old Hollywood leads ostriches on leashes to their fate. The Black Anaconda can’t suffocate the power of legend. Break the seal. How the stars clutch to us, child.




A Woman Called Sunset Blvd.

Barbara La Marr & the Fetish

I tell Sunset Boulevard stories about where I come from. The vamp of the 1920s. Lies. I was born the rich daughter of an estancia. High in the Andes mountains. It fell to my grandmother, a bitter woman from the estuary of the Rio de la Plata, to raise me. Her sharp black eyes thwacked like knives. She detested my mother, her black hair and plum lips, her mixed-race skin. Buenos Aires like Sunset Boulevard punishes beauty. “Lazy girl, devil slattern,” the old woman would snap and tie me to a chair next to the roasting spit. “Your mother drove my son mad. She cast a black spell on him.” I wanted to believe in the warm melting of her anger. “Your mother bewitched him in a tangueria with her dancing. I wish I’d had a machete to cut off her legs.” Her crooked fingers shredded great marbled cuts of beef. The old woman muttered incantations that damned me. “I found a dead songbird under her pillow.” I tell Sunset Boulevard that men in the Argentine expect meat. They feed on girls with the same hunger. She chopped hearts and gizzards knowing I liked them and so she fed hot gizzards to the cats. “Sweet, light-eyed boys,” she would sing to the felines and grin with her wrinkled raisin face. I tell Sunset Boulevard I can eat nothing today. My grandmother mashed olives from our own trees, the masa cakes she tied with fuzzy twine. I wanted to love her. “Yes, some warm wine, a few sips,” she mimicked my mother. “The gaucho doctor will be here soon. I don’t want to be disturbed, mon ami.” The gaucho announced himself and was shown to my mother’s bedside. I tell Sunset Boulevard that laughter spilled from the belly of the sick room. Mid-afternoon siesta arrived and departed, then dusk erupted. Mirrors shattered. A gun went off.  I tell Sunset Boulevard me and the old woman found the gaucho stabbed with his own knife and my mother’s throat cut.  My father resembled himself except for the powdery hole in his temple. I touched all three of them. Sunset Boulevard, it was natural to become an actress. A silent film star. Bring me another whiskey water and tell the beasts at the zinc bar to stop staring. Make the glassy eyes of those wild boar look away, damn you. Sunset Boulevard, that’s better—a blue saxophone, fruit flies light on the sticky bottles.


Stephanie Dickinson lives in New York City. Her novels Half Girl and Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is her feminist noir Love Highway. Other books include Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg, (New Michigan Press), Flashlight Girls Run (New Meridian Arts), The Emily Fables (ELJ Publications) and Girl Behind the Door (RMP). Her work has been reprinted in Best American Nonrequired Reading, New Stories from the South, and 2016 New Stories from the Midwest. She is the editor of Rain Mountain Press. She is and identifies as a gunshot survivor.