“Strip Clubs, Tampa” by Ken Meisel

Ken Meisel


Everyone has a story,
even the woman dancing here
in front of me fully undressed,
and waving herself like a palm tree
in front of my face
at a strip club in Tampa,
way back in 1983
while the music thundered
through the booths like a flood.
Can you believe it?
So I asked her to quit the lap dance,
and not to do anything else,
but simply to tell me
how it came to be this
if there was an answer, it fell
into reasons
that have more to do with
the economics of love,
and how and where it is lost
or found in the eyes
of say her father, or her brother,
or her first time lover,
and less to do with money
for college, or for the trip to LA,
although she didn’t want
me to know this,
and, besides, it was for cash.
And for the black eye
she once earned for speaking up.
And it was for the aggression
that she felt in her belly
when she saw the men squirm,
and want her,
and pay for her time
like she was the Goddess Shiva,
dancing here on Nevada Avenue
in Tampa Bay, Florida.
And, if all this wasn’t reason
enough, there was also her
younger sister, who was raped,
and pregnant,
and there was also the reason
she gave which had less
to do with sociology,
or broken dreams,
or psychology and all of its
subterranean motives,
but more to do, she figured,
with passing the time
before the lights of the bay
dropped to their hard core,
and, alone in her silence,
she could wonder how it is
dreams get lost in the crab traps
of our small unraveled lives,
and end up here,
on another lit stage,
in the limelight of men’s lust
or misbegotten affections,
or mishandled attention,
and then finally end here with me,
a guy asking her questions
that she said everyone asked her.
And, whose answers,
like a handful of raw oysters
get misplaced somewhere
under the water,
perhaps in a bed of fish hooks
or collapsed in pilings,
and so she could never
really answer why.
It doesn’t matter to anyone,
is all she could say.
Some nights, afterwards,
you’d see them gathering
in a circle, giggling,
as if they were school girls,
before the pressure to dance
consumed them.
And you’d wonder
what kind of young girls
they were before the thongs
and the wine coolers,
and the hot little panties
stuffed with wads of cash
filled their personalities up.
Way back in the days
before the silver nipples
and the nightly ritual
of rubbing ice on them
cooled their breasts,
and also their hopes for true love.
And you’d wonder what
it was they’d once
wished for in their beds,
before the stripping naked
for us
chilled their sweet hearts.

from Rattle #24, Winter 2005

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