Justin Vivian Bond meditates on Marilyn Monroe, Blanche Dubois, and the allure of pearls

The acclaimed performer shares an essay, ‘Pearls, after the death of an anointed queen,’ for Document's Fall/Winter 2012 issue.

I don’t really know where this pearl soundtrack comes from—the incessant clattering abacus of softened themes and time signatures in my mind. One strand. Two. Three… First ladies. Signature Pearls. Oftentimes I’m at a loss for words or forethoughts and in hindsight I find the complete intractability of my imagination to be not only a handicap, but also a misfortune. Of course there are ways of rewarding oneself for falsely imbuing the future with a golden, rosy glow. But the real test comes from a finer and more gently teased mist; the kind that comes from an otherworldly glow, moon glow; the diffuse reflection that comes from a light shining directly into the whites of someone’s blackened eyes, in fog.

Diffusion is one of the best words that can be applied to the velveteen visual softness of a pearl. Maybe they begin with a grain of sand, but to me they end up looking more like creamed-up dust. Creamed-up dust. That phrase could be used to describe other things too…like a hooker past her prime: The old whore was in her riggings, wobbling idly past the would-be suitors, looking like nothing more than a pile of creamed-up dust. Gold dust. Mining for a lost pastime or a time long past. History buffs. Histories buffed and burnished. Nightstands. Pearlescent nails polished on the ball and claw rotunda that supports her vanity table. The creamed-up dust of last night’s revelries, seeping, seeping… Now there’s a word. Seeping. That word brings to mind a kind of benign conjunctivitis, doesn’t it? Why don’t they just call the discharge from conjunctivitis conjunction? The discharge from the flaming pink eye was the seepage binding together the upper and lower lids. Seepage as conjunction. Conjoined eyelids.

The ocular Chang and Eng. Ocular rosacea is anything but seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. With ocular rosacea, you get burning gritty eyes, bringing me back to the pearl and creamed-up dust. Pearl would be the perfect name for the old whore. Janis Joplin chose that name, that persona, for her last record, Pearl. Busted flat in Baton Rouge. Thank you Kris Kristofferson, pretty baby. Her eyes were like oysters. That’s not a phrase you’ll find in poetry too often. You wouldn’t write that to someone you were trying to woo: My Darling, your eyes are like oysters… Would you say it about yourself? Maybe, if you were suffering from Ocular Rosacea. My eyes are like oysters. My eyes feel like oysters, gritty churning mollusks brimming with irritants. A sight for sore eyes. Clams. Mussels. Pearl oysters. Pearl sacks. Freshwater, saltwater, natural, cultured, anything, but imitation. No imitations. Only certified bivalves will be seen. Nature or nurture, Mother of Pearl. I wouldn’t trade you for another girl…Thank you, Bryan Ferry, I’ve been up all night, again.

My cat, Pearl, sent me on an errand, told me to pick up some cat food at the store, around the corner. They didn’t have Kitty Gourmet so I loaded up on Fancy Feast. On my way home, I was set upon by four wastrels. Bottom-feeders. Attacked. I felt my throat tighten, my breath was hot, the inside of my nostrils smelled of sulfur. All too suddenly I was thinking of the many times this had happened before. Anger, fear, muscles tensing—fight or flee—adrenaline kicking the cans, up, up and away, causing the additional formation of yet another layer of calcium carbonate. Every time the wrong guy says the wrong thing, he brings the past back and adds on one more layer of flinty, phosphorescent myalgia to where it lies in wait. Cyclically, cystically, just beneath the skin. Buried gently, almost innocuously somewhere within the psyche. Maybe that’s what happened to Janis. Only for her, the Pearl was a record that came out too late: after birth, after death, no rewards and no redemption. A latent Pearl. The Very Late Marilyn Monroe: Happy Birthday, Mr. President. Translucence. Calcite. Aragonite. Play me a sad song on the conchiolin… Don’t forget me. When we’re old and full of cancer…Thank you, Leonard Cohen, tender troubadour.

String me up like a pearl on the moon, a simple platinum strand to bind me. Starlit glamour; my makeup consisting only of lacrimation, crystalline tears, regrets, recriminations. The lachrymose whore. The junkie’s revenge. The judgment of the moon and stars. Pearl river, mooning over Monroe. Moon Over My Hammy. 24-hour breakfast at Denny’s. Have you ever stopped to consider what pearls mean? Purity? Transformation? Try reading John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, that’s a real toe-tapper. The Pearl of the World. Too late to throw it back in the ocean. Can’t save the baby, it’s been gunned down by greedy thieves. Don’t try this at home. Don’t give what is holy to the dogs. Do not cast your pearls before swine. Thanks, Jesus, for the great advice. Blanche DuBois didn’t take it. Neither did Marilyn or Janis. Pearl is a singer. Minnie Pearl. Pearls of wisdom. Pearl necklace. Pearl Jam. Crème de la mer. Pearl’s at home waiting for her Fancy Feast as I lay in the gutter gestating yet another pearl, another luminescent layer formed amongst stimulating irritants, blind alleys, old wounds, the frailty of innocents and the strand of a song that accompanies the dimming vision of a dying queen.

Mollusks… The soft things.

Hair and Make Up Harumi Machii. Dress by Mandy Coon. Styling Assistant Regina Chain Lai Wan. Blazer by PARKCHOONMOO. Shoes by Phillip Lim.