History & Bikinis

by Donald Platt

My favorite uncle would put the chickens to slecp
by hiding their heads
under his armpit, then rocking them back and forth

like squalling infants
in his anchor-and-heart tattooed arms while crooning some wordless
lullaby, before

he chopped their heads off on the oak's scarred stump. "That way
they never know
a thing," he said. He showed me history in the annual rings

of that blood-soaked stump.
After he'd plucked the brazen, sun-flecked feathers,
gutted the carcass,

intestines hot between his fingers, thrown the slop bucket
o the hogs, and given
the trussed body, obscenely white, to my mother,

he'd start counting
the outer rings and work his way slowly
towards the center.

"1963, a good year, plenty of rain, see how wide
the growth ring is
I Want to Hold Your Hand' sold a quarter million copies

in the first three days,"
and then, as an afterthought, "When the monk Trich Quan Duc
burned himself alive

on a Saigon street, the Catholic generals called it
Buddhist barbecue."
In our own Birmingham's Sixteenth St. Baptist Church

bombing, four black girls
got killed while the Sunday-school class discussed
The Love That Forgives."

History's synonym is irony. But I, whose body had been jolted
awake by the electroshock
of hormones flooding my brain cells, who was more interested in jerking off

over the Sears & Roebuck catalogue's
lingerie section in the tool shed that reeked new-mown grass,
sperm, and gasoline,

didn't get it. It was all trivia to me, even
when he explained 1952,
Korea, how he had escaped more four-hour mortar attacks by writing

long panegyric letters
to the Russian consulate. "They hustled me out of Seoul
real quick." He tilted

his head and winked. When he saw he'd lost me,
my uncle, who knew
all history backwards, Sorbonne on the GI Bill, but couldn't

pull his shell-shocked life together
and wandered Europe for the next ten years before returning to the States
to stay with us, would stop,

rip open a cloudless blue pack of Gauloises, and light
a cigarette whose smell meant
Paris, boulevards, women, the life I fantasized

as a dirt-poor preacher's
kid in Kansas. Acrid smoke kick-started my uncle's reiterated
hacking, someone turning over

the ignition of a car whose cold engine wouldn't
catch. "Listen,"
he continued, "July 5th, 1946, the bikini bathing suit

created by Louis Réard
made its 'debut during a fashion show at the Molitor
Pool in Paris. Model

Micheline Bernardini wore the abbreviated outfit,
covered with a newspaper-print
design. I bet you didn't know that the bikini got its name

from the Pacific atoll
where, four days earlier, the U.S. had exploded another
A-bomb?" He nearly

died laughing, "She must have been a bombshell," and went on counting out
the rings until
the great shade tree became a sapling

Uncle couldn't
stop, kept talking to himself alone, forgot me
in his frantic countdown

that went back before the acorn dropped
and sprouted,
to the Great Fire of Rome and further back,

before the Year Zero
of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, before God's sperm begot
upon a virgin

history, her shrieks and moans that have lasted
two millennia and more,
back beyond Xenophon and his Greek mercenaries crying,

"Thalassa, Thalassa,"
back to Heraclitus whispering, "No god or man has made
this world, which is

the same for all; but it was ever, is now, and ever shall be
an ever-living Fire,
with measures kindling and with measures going out." I left him

raving by the stump
whose green, invisible, burning branches he could never
put out or cut down.

"He's off his rocker" was my mother's official
"If he stays, I go!" she told my father. All

I can remember clearly
of that summer was the heat and how desire drew me
into the cool darkness

of the tool shed, where I would fumble
with our Sears
& Roebuck bible, turning the pages wildly past

Good Year
radial tires, skillsaws, workboots, ball-peen hammers, Burpee's
sunflower seeds, until I found

the sweet forbidden flesh of the Swimsuit Section between
Hardware and Household.
I would imagine Micheline Bernardini in the world's

first bikini,
and as I came in shuddering spurts onto the oil-soaked rag
my father used to wipe

our Chevy's dipstick clean, everything got mixed up. In the seven seconds
of blinding orgasm, I saw
her sundered flesh, the mushroom cloud rising almost one mile

out of the ocean,
ecstasy's alpha and omega, ground zero, a youngJapanese
girl kneeling, and the dead

chickens running in circles without their heads, chased
by my uncle who will
always ask me what the newsprint on her torn, stripped-off bikini said.

Last updated February 23, 2023