“Dirty / Pretty” by Madison Klingbeil

Madison Klingbeil


that little thrill i get / from watching that scene in dirty dancing /
where baby comes to johnny’s room / after saving penny
from the botched abortion /

that little thrill i get / moves like that move they do /
when they start to dance / that dip-swing /
that swayful mirroring / that shake of baby’s curls

that look almost like mine /

that also look like vivian’s in pretty woman /
after the blonde wig leaves forever / releasing hair
that’s some kind of red jungle / spreading and spreading /
a reforestation of herself / against a backdrop of ’80s hits and crones in pearls /

that little thrill i get at her hyena laugh /
in the iconic scene where edward snaps the lid shut
on the quarter-million-dollar necklace /

and suddenly she is a beacon in the hotel lobby /
which isn’t new when you remember the scene /
where they kick her from the dress shop in beverly hills /

just like it isn’t new that
i hear her hyena laugh in mine /
her beacon in mine /

and then i think of how i learned / that i am autistic
from old parenting books on my mom’s shelf /

and how i’m really not like these gals /
whose lovers are played by patrick swayze and richard gere /
who are beacons partly because they’re in love /
and know how to say so

and i think comparatively of how i used to cry /
just telling the bookshelf story to my own lovers /
as if they all knew before i did /
obvious like the laugh / or the curls /

obvious like a watermark
running down the center of me /
well meaning but awkward in shape /
awkward in motion /

how it jerks in parallel to our lover’s body /
endlessly unsure of the steps /

the watermark asks / how to feel safe in the sway and dip and shake /
how to live well under the blanket of strange, tender music /
how to dance the right way in love /

i don’t know how to answer all that /
but i always go back to that scene / to that little thrill i get /
from watching johnny and baby get together /
while the man on the radio asks / if i feel like crying /

and i answer as if i’m there with all of them / i say yeah, man /
but first we need to rewind / give me that mirror one more time /

so i can remember how somebody / wanted to make a movie
about strange women in love / about beacons / shining /
always unwillingly, radiantly shining /

how somebody made these gals / these movies /
in my image /

from Rattle #71, Spring 2021
Tribute to Neurodiversity


Madison Klingbeil: “Up until my sophomore year of high school, I was a ravenous hunter for good storytelling in any medium. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think at least part of what made me stop was the shame I began to feel when I saw the way my autism was portrayed (or not portrayed) in the stories I consumed. I started to question whether or not I was being autistic the ‘right way.’ Was I being funny enough? Was I too robotic? Was I smart enough? Was I a bother when I needed a break from the noise? Would things change if I came out? In the summer of 2018, right after graduation, I landed a job as a counselor at the YMCA summer camp I’d been attending since I was in fifth grade. That year, I found a new family amongst my co-workers as well as a new adoration for spoken word poetry. Suddenly, I understood what it meant to feel safe and how to put words to that safety in a way that I couldn’t before. It was like I found my heartbeat again, not even knowing that I had lost it. Now, whenever I miss my summer family I reach for any book of poetry on my shelf and find them again.” (web)

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