Alice Fulton

      Fictions of the Feminine: Quasi-Carnal Creatures
                    from the Cloud Decks of Venus

I. The Cocktail Waitress

Before work, I practice Bo-Peep put-offs under veils
of Maybelline, pop two No-Doz, and stop
at church. I pray
for the creeps with bucks
to burn, for those receptacles,
the dancers, who throw their legs
over strangers' shoulders, rolling
their heads and tongues in scorn-
ful seizure; pray to escape this low-class pain, become a flight
attendant. Sometimes I'm the only decent female

in the place. A magenta spotlight,
a glitzy reptilian globe, dyes flesh
the winking livid pink
of badly tuned TVs.
Stone freaks, diddlers, Raincoat
Charlies stare at the strut-
way through three-dollar beers
or scan the racked fantasies
in back: ersatz nuns
with bewildered German Shepherds, condoms
stamped with El Greco's
"View of Toledo." Above me,

women spiked with hard-
ware strip down to garters
full of dollars. It gets in my head,
bothers my mind to see
their breasts cemented by silicone, unmoved
whether they laugh or cry, faces so puffy
they have to sleep upright
to keep the stuff from slipping.
I hate them

for the way they hurt themselves, working
this place like a purgatorial
gyno ward, letting hope live
in their smiles like a tic, thinking some Sugar
Daddy will save their lives
in Vegas, a vested broker wive them,
the way Aztec victims thought
they'd go to heaven and be reborn as hummingbirds
or goddamned butterflies.

II. The Paralyzed Client

To replace thought with sensation, that's why
I come. To see pouty flowers

squirm in mimeo-
violet light, three floors of XX fun.

As a kid, XX stood for kisses:
now, of course, it's different. They swivel down the ramp,

germ-sinuous, diseasable as
scavenger eels eating up dead

rivers, the swash and backwash
of their strip, their looping moves, powerful

and crass as propaganda. "Showgirls."
What a sham! Only shiftless

idiotheads would work this gig.
I have a certain objectivity. As a kid, I saw

slides of atrophied muscle,
my own, I bet, magnified 1000x:

gauzy as cheesecloth, a fine plaid lilac.
Dad was a pathologist. I have this

scientific eye. I hate
the other patrons with their static

can-do vanity, hate the haggling
glances of these pancaked tramps.

Last week, blunt as a judge,
one offered me a real sex rub. Took me

for a sucker, another fool
for oogling, but I knew her gaff

game: the knockout
drops in liquor, the stacked

quarters–they'll clip you.
I've ordered a power-

driven chair. Then I'll be able
to travel with the lightning

menace of a centipede, a gladiator
in fetters. I'll come armed

with shellcrackers, live
ammo, do some damage to the situation,

put a stagger in their struts.
As a kid, I'd find human

limbs in the fridge.
I've always been like this.

III. The Stripper

                        "100 Pounds of Passion
                  from London's Mousetrap Lounge!"
            The histories they invent for me . . .
      I'd like to enter shrink-wrapped in lead
sheeting, leopard skin, tinsel, and an orthopedic shoe.
"A Fiction of the Feminine, a Quasi-Carnal Creature
from the Cloud Decks of
                        Venus," I could be. Elevated
                  feeling's always rhythmic. I dance
            to gutbucket jazz, to fragments of myself hung-
      up in mirrors across the room, swiveling
with the current like a body in a river. A good strip
depends on intricate, smooth moves, a thrust for every nut:
                        the hook and eye
                  and switch and mince, the wrench
            kicks, heavy-duty ratchet
      dips, the chops, the hits, each detail planned and weighed
like a successful suicide. At the end I pick up
                        The moltings, go backstage.
                  The dressing rooms of skin boutiques smell
            haunted–decades of burnt sweat, I guess.
      Once, doing breastercises with a pair of brass fire
hose nozzles, I saw this antique spangled tarantella
of a burly queen, showing her fangs
and laughing at me, the flabby old vamp.
                        Most dancers are lesbians.
                  The creeps that patronize are sick. I say
            they have fiberfill for minds, icicles for dicks.
      They think they're special, though, the dimwits.
When they ask, I say I'm quitting to work with autistic kids.
                        Some girls go
                  horizontal, do floorwork,
            some clubs have touch, but I never get on
      eye level. I make the dumb fucks look
up. Last night they rolled a wheelchair
at me like a bowling ball. "Farther!" he yells,
tears running from his eyes, mouth, nose.
                        They come to drool
                  at us marooned in black and white,
            in either/or, virgin/whore.
      The spotlight, the darkness,
shields them like the polished visors of riot
police. Appetites like this are dangerous, growing
                        on what they can't quite handle.
                  But I prefer that to any
            vis-a-vis. I'm a modest person by nature.
      To tell the truth, I do this now through force
of habit. One night, for a hoot, I'll put pasties,
gown, mask, wig and boa over a rented skeleton suit.
                        Moving slowly, I'll pose, give
                  looks, then what a show! I'll come bumping
            through their heads stripped down to a string
      of glowing bones: the ultimate
in unpeeled flesh.

Alice Fulton, Palladium, University of Illinois Press, 1986.