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Speakeasy Sestina~New York City, 1922

by Mara Phillips

Inside the smoke-filled room the jazz band
Plays; soft and slow, the notes rise and fall.
Eyes flash in the blue light, cigarettes glow red,
Coquettish smiles pass between swaying pairs.
Gin burns her stomach, but somehow feels right.
It makes her head spin, makes her forget to see.

She bobbed her hair yesterday, to match the sea
Of powdered faces, to join this new band
Of liberated ladies who earned the right
To vote and wear knee skirts in the fall.
She gave her corset to build a ship, bought a pair
Of pants, and painted her lips and nails red.

Faintly she remembers the words she read,
Waiting with a knotted stomach to see
The postman with another letter to pare,
Full of promises of victory and a wedding band.
She shudders, refuses the thought of his fall
On the battlefield, his hand now unable to write.

The man holding her now sways left and right
With clumsy steps. His face blushes red
From the drinks. Indifferent, her eyes fall
On another across the room. She sees
His feet tap to the beat of the jazz band,
Wonders if he is also part of a lonely pair.

She listens to the music, letting the pair
Of guitars bring out the tears. The sounds write
Glistening lines down her face like a band
Of rain. Outside a fire engine siren rings red
Into the night. She staggers, unable to see.
Thinking longingly of fire, she lets herself fall.

Let it be enough that it’s New York in the fall,
That she’s part of this fad, that she’s paired
With another disillusioned youth who can’t see
Whether or not to turn left or right,
Who has lost his purpose in the blue, white, and red.
Let it be enough to sway to the jazz band.

Speak easy as the stars fall in pairs,
As a sea of faces sways left and right
To the sound of red sirens and a jazz band.