from 2008, revised.
What Ed at the door said was true: they were all tired, all the time.
Tired from pushing themselves through double shifts
on behalf of houses, children, better lives —
whatever they had to have.
Half the dancers were former high schoolmates
so there wasn’t much mystery about why they were there.
Half the reason we came was to pay to see
what we’d once tried our best to see for free.
“Brandy” used to dance
to the most radical rock songs she could find.
I saw her dance to the MC5 once. She made me believe
the revolution will be a miracle of taut thighs and dissociation.
You push a commodified body
against the pulse of commodified rebellion long enough,
something begins to happen.
The ones who watch them don’t usually see it,
but I never met a stripper who didn’t understand
the balance of power in any give and take relationship.
What it took to gain power, what was inherent,
what could be assumed, what was the coin of the realm;
all was there in the tall shoes and the soft tummies
of the dancers who didn’t speak
until you’d set them up with a drink or a couple of dollar bills,
who then told you everything in high brisk voices laughing now and then
at some drunk who’d gotten crude with them earlier in the night.
I’d sit there secure in the knowledge that they’d never say that about me.
After all, I only went there for the education and the irony
and I told everyone that, even when I couldn’t stop staring
at Sharon from my math class who whipped my ass in every test,
at “Brandy” and her hip-pulsing anger, at Ed
whose scars and meathook hands welcomed everyone
to the Gardens, even at myself in the mirror behind the dirty bar.