On the flat screen Yul Brenner plays
some sort of Asian king. They are battling
the Mongols, or else they themselves
are Mongols—I missed some salient detail
while debating Apple vs. Hot Flamingo.
Country music plays—there is some mention of
a tractor—and outside it’s begun to snow
again. So many worlds pressed up together here
at Happy Nails. Not unlike Yul-Brenner-land,
where now they drink to victory and cheer a troupe
of belly dancers, dressed to some man’s imagination.
Our hero, white, with 1950s hair, dreams a woman’s
demure face. He still has more to gain.
I want to ask the man who’s filing my toenails
(one eye trained upon the screen) just what
country they’re supposed to be in? Slumped
in this massage chair, I can’t frame this
conversation. The technicians, men, are
Vietnamese. The clients, women: white.
A man washes my feet / a recent immigrant
kneels to work / an entrepreneur with Bluetooth
on earns good money in return for luxury.
I don’t know which lens to use, and when
I ask where the movie’s set, he tells me,
Well, why not? Interchangeable parts.
Insert hero. Insert love. Insert foreign flare.
Yul Brenner’s folks were Russian, quite literally
Caucasian; up next on the marathon he plays a Mayan
king. Is it the lack of hair? “This my kingdom,”
he declares. (Only “white” guys got good grammar.)
My toes are done; my theory ties itself in knots.
The technician doesn’t care if I get up or stay a bit.
He’s turned to watch the grand finale. The battle lines
are clear. We know the good guys win the day. “I love
these films,” he tells me. “I watch them all day long.”
Emily K. Bright’s poetry has been published nationally and internationally in such publications as Other Voices International, Collier’s, America Magazine, and Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, among others. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Minnesota.