Read by: Dan Stevens
Janet Leigh, actress, 1927–2004
I met her once, two years before she died.
LA in January on the Universal lots
and just the other side of those planes and towers
which had, already, made an after of everything.
Age had whittled her to a bird, the years
paring her at elbow, collar bone and cheek
so when she handed her coat to her driver
he draped it and half of her over his shoulder.
A cruel splice perhaps, for the photographer
to have taken her there. The motel unchanged
and the shower inside still the same
where, in fifty cuts and a single still,
her white-toothed scream, the sound of a knife
stabbing a melon, the shadow of ‘mother’,
all made, after the edit and the studio’s campaign,
As she posed for the shots and I took my notes
a tour bus approached, the guide’s voice amplified
through its windows – And here on your right, the Bates
made famous in – Oh my god! It’s Janet Leigh!
Their turning heads made her a starlet once more.
As the bus slowed down she switched on a smile
and released a red carpet wave, returned by twenty-four
palms pressed against glass, like convicts at visiting hour.
But as they drove on again, and she turned back to us,
whatever had lit her didn’t last; the smile dropped
and her eyes downcast, as if she knew, already,
that more than just a bus had passed.
But none of us knew.
And even now we’re still learning how much.
Look, here in the same magazine
where just last week I read of her death – this.
Another still; a young woman again,
her lips spread in a smile not a scream,
and her thumbs up as she leans into frame
to put her face beside the prone detainee’s.
No lights, body doubles or make up.
No studio or Hitchcock composing the scene.
Just the flash of a camera in this place of ravens
illuminating this woman in fatigues,
this girl in a windowless corridor, unknowing,
like an actress in the seconds of a take,
that this moment, caught forever, will make her
the new starlet face of American horror.
Photographs of the abuses and torture committed at Abu Ghraib
prison by the U.S. Army first came to light in 2004.