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The Agony and the Ecstasy of Rita the Saint

[Editor’s Note: Charlie Berigan is a writer and member of the South Bay Scribes. He wrote this piece, included in their Chapbook #6, about Rita Hayworth who lived in Chula Vista. As a teenager, she performed in Tijuana and got her “first break” there.]

Rita Hayworth House

Does this little home look a little boring to you? Run down? You might not even notice it along a suburban street? Well, this is where Rita Hayworth once lived with her abusive father. If you enjoy my “Gangster Tour” you’ll certainly end up here taking pictures.

By Charlie Berigan

Non descript corner
modest appointments, bungalow dwelling
no temple, no altar
no hint of divinity

Familia Cansino,
fresh girl-child so winsome
Eduardo the man and
his ‘sposa’-his daughter
quite literally a home girl
but robbed of her childhood
crush sacrifice to showbiz ambition
yet duckling to swan life arc
surpassed all wishful thinking
the auburn tresses, elegant dresses
a conspiracy of silence
hidden by the cloak of
ghastly abuse of gentlest heart

What chance had she then
when ripped at by demons
studio chiefs and agents and suits
all trumped by the ‘father’
that he who should guide, guard, and protect
his shredding of trust and ancient taboo
that original sin from which
she-Rita would never, ever escape

She sat there, right up the street over thataway
eyes red from crying,
as to match her new dye job
mute, withdrawn, not the least bit of life
waiting, soul empty
was wishing even an option?
The Grimm-est of fairy tales
in progress, in motion
those shuttletrips off to
track then called ‘Caliente’
were long, they were dirty
there was tension before, during,
and of course, after
all sorts of grimy slimeballs and sleaze
jostling close, then paying court
the show now completed,
Red Angel’s scooped homeward
back to Fifth Ave., not far from that school
to start this all over,
the pattern’s in play.

Could the mother have done something?
or were her sorrows and fear
already bound up and part of the lexicon
of Ed padre’s noxious toxicity
-all Pygmalion with underscored PIG
a creature so stomach-churning
to even to go so far as to blunt
all sense of “Almighty”…
If daughter was clear life proof
of cosmos divinity
so “Papi” a slam dunk
creep peep show proof certain
that the Devil, El Diablo
was live, well, and kicking…
On this street, in this “hood”
God was just so damned AWOL
those days, hours, nights
said to be so foul-reeking

“I told you (that) you know
nothing of wickedness”
code of curt silence
imprinted early on
“You just don’t rat…”
not “stand up guys”
and their hot girl molls
gangsta-code, Thirties style
covering all sorts
of squiggly nasty
particularly between
daughters and their dads.

“A ranch called the Bar Nothing”
yet another ad phrase so ironic
and ain’t it ironical truth
when it comes to conjugal rights
a man and his “let’s pretend” wife
pushing the envelope
of yuck and disgust
a favorite diversion for
“Pops” and his twinkle toe urges

Let’s see-there was to be
Gilda, and “Lady” named Elsa
of course, Dona Sol, (especially those three)
and soaring Ira/Kern tin pan standard
serving as dreamscape
and stand-alone theme song
far away and long ago
for girlhood defiled, innocence tainted
womanhood robbed, and concomitant nasty

Cinema Verite becomes all too true
as Orson, on screen, trots to the rescue
pretty plumy Irish brogue
and the foundation of a paunch
punching out would be thug rapists
to set “Elsa” free and then off to frolic
a babe said “from Shanghai”
abusive, masochist hubby and she
to duel to their deaths
in a San Fran fun mirror house
Ah, but it’s the flickers, and those
shattered shards of memory…
not so simple to sweep away
once narrative’s done, and the lights come back on
maybe that’s one of the biggest whys
that all came to curtain’s end
far too soon for real life Rita

God made his entrance, true Deus ex machina
to shepherd this Third Act
denouement choice
the vaguest of masked memories
far more to be wished for
than crystal remembrance
of all that incestuous bungalow show
The movies remain, the legend , the fame
but look not too closely
her eyes cannot lie
no one is THAT good an actor.

Leave us so make then
a Cover Girl’s epitaph
for a crippled and wounded young
nymph who deserved better
drawn out of the silence
to the tumult typhoon
of the footlights beyond
and then retreating, back to same hollow
the only eyrie where any
safety might be sure-certain
sitting and staring
all good with oblivion.

So still she sat
eyes into space unto death
at other end of rainbow/day/night
having somehow found sinew
to endure all, and then some
entombed in her silence.

Perhaps the house might now be a shrine
a Mecca, a Lourdes, a perpetual flame
a girl-goddess swift sacrifice
to Hollywood’s game
That no one did intercept
those horrors endured
at hands hardly parental
and hearts so repugnant
grant US now forgiveness,
and grace in your mercy
for by the end credits
we’d known NOT what he’d done

I cannot speak for other pilgrims
but I feel called to offer up as penance
a vigil’s watch, on opposite corner
the years, what matter they, they’ll fall away
as scabs will do, once mission’s done
I’ll look for you there
waiting, silent
keeping those secrets
and then, would it be true,
you’d rise up from your reverie
and capture those gentlest ventricular waves
of compassion, of love,
of greatest winged victory
the phoenix, the healed,
now utterly whole
the resurrect “star”, all you.


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