In honor of a new and well-reviewed biopic about Marilyn Monroe (My Week with Marilyn), I share a powerful poem about her suicide by Nicaraguan poet and practitioner of liberation theology Reverend Father Ernesto Cardenal Martinez. Cardenal talks of her body as a holy temple that has been desecrated by the Hollywood moneychangers.
But it was not only Hollywood that was to blame for her death. Cardenal notes that we were all involved in that “Mammoth Super-Production.” We demanded that she follow a script that reflected our own yearning and (as we do with stars) wouldn’t let her be a private and flawed individual. She, a former abuse victim, thought that by fulfilling our dreams, by becoming an object of our adoration, she would fulfill her own dreams. Instead, she discovered a terrible loneliness. “She longed for love,” the poet writes, “and we gave her tranquilizers.”
Prayer for Marilyn Monroe
By Ernesto Cardenal
Lord accept this girl
called Marilyn Monroe throughout the world
though that was not her name
(but you know her real name, that of the orphan raped at nine
the shopgirl who tried to kill herself when aged sixteen)
who now goes into your presence without make-up
without her Press Agent
without her photographs or signing autographs
lonely as an astronaut facing the darkness of outer space.
When a girl, she dreamed she was naked in a church
(according to Time)
standing in front of a prostrate multitude, heads to the ground,
and had to walk on tiptoe to avoid the heads.
You know our dreams better than all psychiatrists.
Church, house or cave all represent the safety of the womb
but also something more…
The heads are admirers, so much is clear (that
mass of heads in the darkness below the beam to the screen)
but the temple isn’t the studios of 20th-Century Fox.
The temple, of marble and gold, is the temple of her body
in which the Son of Man stands whip in hand
driving out the money-changers of 20th-Century Fox
who made your house of prayer a den of thieves.
Lord, in this world
contaminated equally by radioactivity and sin,
surely you will not blame a shopgirl
who (like any other shopgirl) dreamed of being a star.
And her dream became “reality” (Technicolor reality).
All she did was follow the script we gave her,
That of our own lives, but it was meaningless
Forgive her, Lord, and likewise all of us
for this our 20th Century
and the Mammoth Super-Production in whose making we all shared.
She was hungry for love and we offered her tranquillizers.
For the sadness of our not being saints
they recommended psychoanalysis.
Remember, Lord, her increasing terror of the camera
and hatred of make-up (yet insistence on being newly made-up
for every scene) and how the terror grew
and how her unpunctuality at the studios grew.
Like any other shopgirl she dreamed
of being a star.
And her life was as unreal as a dream an analyst reads and files.
Here romances were kisses with closed eyes
which when the eyes are opened
are seen to have been played out beneath the spotlights
but the spotlights have gone out,
and the two walls of the room (it was a set) are taken down
while the Director moves away notebook in hand,
the scene being safely canned.
Or like a cruise on a yacht, a kiss in Singapore, a dance in Rio;
a reception in the mansion of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor
viewed in the sad tawdriness of a cheap apartment.
The film ended without the final kiss.
They found her dead in bed, hand on the phone
And the detectives knew not whom she was about to call.
It was as
though someone had dialed the only friendly voice
and heard a pre-recorded tape just saying “WRONG NUMBER”;
or like someone wounded by gangsters, who
reaches out towards a disconnected phone.
it may have been that she was going to call
but did not (and perhaps it was no one at all
or Someone not named in the Los Angeles directory),
Lord, answer that phone.
Translated by Robert Pring-Mill