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Pop Smear

For My Boh

I write this valentine in Old Bay and blood, Baltimore, because I love you. I’m enthralled by you, besotted with you, I carry you in my heart like the first boy I kissed whose braces cut the inside of my mouth to juicy shreds, I loll and roll before you like a cat in heat waiting for the tomcat prick that’ll scrape her up on the way out, I endure your slaps and misfortune like Guido Crepax’s Valentina, chic in Louise Brooks bangs and India ink leather, afloat in a masochistic cloud of her own making. If I was smart I’d abandon you for a Rudolph Valentino of a city, a sheik like Portland or Austin or, god help me, Brooklyn, who’d swaddle me in his hipster-friendly embrace and romance me with burning eyes. Loving Baltimore instead is like being Cagney’s moll—it’s only a matter of time until you get a grapefruit in the kisser.

Despite that, I’m yours, Baltimore, no matter how your kisses back to me are few and far between (the valentine archive secreted in the greeting card archive at the Pratt Library, the neon heart outside the American Visionary Art Museum). I’m a hundred miles north in Philadelphia, city of brotherly love, and yet your good points are easier to see from faraway. Now that I’m finally free of your gravitational pull, I’m as lonely as first-woman-in-space Valentina Tereshkova, twirling in orbit, nauseous and rootless and miserable until crashing home again. I can hear your cackle as you eye my retreating ass: “I hate to watch you leave, baby . . . but I love to watch you go.”

“Ah luv t’ wotch yew gay-o.” That Baltimore “o,” dipthong shibboleth extraordinaire. Why does it not have its own special phonetic designation, like “ñ” or “ü,” to honor its drawling, pan-vowelic slide? That primal “o” is my Sanskrit “om,” the sound the universe makes: the “O!” barbarically yawped en masse during “The Star Spangled Banner” at Orioles games. And the yonic Orioles’ o logo, with its flirty cursive curl across the forehead (“And when she was good, she was very, very good . . .”)—what is it but a Palmer Method cooch? The big O, indeed. I give our “o” a phonetic symbol: I give it ♥. Give it a spin aloud in this Baltimore “rain in Spain” sentence from my friend (and fellow ex-pat) Jen Hubbard: “H♥n, he hit him ♥ver the head s♥ hard with a C♥ke bottle he had to call the p♥lice and an ambulance.”

How do you so effortlessly engulf me, Baltimore, like the Blob at the end of Kid’s Baffle? Saturday mornings, WJZ-TV, Baltimore’s William Hurt-lite host Bob Callahan asking nervous kids beat-the-clock questions (“Name something a fireman would say,” I distinctly remember) to the mock-Benny Goodman strains of the Cantina Band song from Star Wars, the kids trying to belch up an answer before the wobbly video chroma-key superimposed over their faces engulfed them, munch munch. You chomp me up, Baltimore. You clean me like a crab, scoop out my mustard, trash my puny shell. You scar me like you scarred my father. He was 8 years old in 1958, a husky kid in left outfield bleacher seats at Memorial. A pop fly went over his head. To follow its thrilling path he skidded his chubby butt over the rough plank of the bleacher. That night his mother had to pick a dozen needles of wood out of his behind. She couldn’t get them all. He didn’t mind. I understand completely. I want to carry splinters of you inside me.

I love you carnally, Baltimore—sloppily, smokily, Jack and Coke-ily, like a Heavy Metal Parking Lot slattern. (Hell yeah! Hell yeah! I’d jump his b♥nes.) I want to lick the incinerator smokestack emblazoned BALTIMORE, billowing Mobtown incense over the base of I-95. I rub trash dust in my eyes and I’m the girl in the Irish folktale in Eightball No. 11: “Sometime after [placing magic ash in her eyes] the girl went to a fair . . . She was able to see many people who couldn’t be seen by others at all.” I’ve got Charm City-voyance, I see past laid on future: Haussner’s, Hammerjacks, Memorial Stadium (what a meta-recall backflip that is, to remember a place named Memorial). I still see the Orpheum theater, STAB bat on the water tower, Blood Circus ads in the Baltimore News American, Blaze Starr’s rack, Marty Bass’ toupee. Roses are red, this Violet wants you. I’m yours, Baltimore! Oh! O! ♥!

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