Spring 2012

Legend / Siegfried’s Underwear

Preposterously white

Wayne Koestenbaum

“Legend” is a column by Wayne Koestenbaum in which he suggests one or more possible captions for an image provided by the editors of Cabinet.

Dear Mother,

Our outfits are preposterously white! War, thus far, delights us. Avoiding carnage, we spend time repairing airplanes.

What did you feel, nineteen years ago, when the obstetrician revealed that you’d given birth to twins? As I stand on the dusty fields of the Pacific theater and decipher maps with my fate-kissed brother Siegfried, I often imagine that first conversation with the obstetrician—you, supine on the hospital bed, and Dr. Emmerich, white-coated, looming over your spent body. Was his coat white, or was it splattered with the placental excess of our passage into this world?

Thank you for mending Siegfried’s underwear. I will send you a pair of my own and beg you to perform on it the same kind service.

Siegfried awaits word from Sally. He worries that their engagement is ruptured. Please send word: is Sally whoring around? The Pacific theater dominates Siegfried’s consciousness; he lacks time to write letters.

Siegfried’s warts have vanished, thanks to the intrepid vet, but bleach sores still riddle my hands.

Is Siegfried doomed to a dishonorable discharge? He is handsomer than I—Sally is not the only suitor in our native Las Vegas to agree—and also more perverted. I inherited your Latin coloring; the hoi polloi prefer fellows with blond or russet hair, like Leslie Howard’s. But at least I am not a flamer, and any moviegoer with a grammar school education could guess that Leslie Howard is a rump ranger.

Please give Father our love. I hope that his work in the canning factory leaves him leisure time to take you on long drives through the desert surrounding Las Vegas.

Your wingèd son,

Wayne Koestenbaum is a Distinguished Professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center. His most recent books are Humiliation (Picador, 2011), The Anatomy of Harpo Marx (University of California Press, 2012), and a new collection of poems, Blue Stranger with Mosaic Background (Turtle Point Press, 2012).

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