To an Old Queen Getting Dressed
She was an old queen; I was freshly out.
She'd taken me under her massive wing
and paraded me at parties. Her thing
was to be seen, always. Sometimes I'd sit
for hours in her parlor—what else could
I call that bazaar of flounce, chintz, feathers,
all new to me; in her closet, leathers,
whips, boots she didn't wear, from what she called
dismissively her "bad decade of butch."
I'd thumb a magazine; she'd light a joint.
I tried maintaining a façade of faint,
masculine disinterest. She'd call me "bitch."
"Who wants," she asked, "a body under siege?"
adjusting the light, searching her mirror
for acne scars, or smudge of Sarcoma,
all dusted out in a snowdrift of rouge.
Old. She called our preferred bar "a single
church, lacking dominant motif," meaning
bears, twinks, the academe, bikers leaning
against one wall, refusing to mingle,
all, as far as she was concerned, welcome
to congregate, and she greeted each with equal
amity, a sort of priest, or regal
queen stepped down from her throne as each one came.
"Not to mention, we've the handsomest choir
boys this side of"—there, a coughing fit
would intervene. She was sick. Felt unfit
to love anymore, or at least "no more
in a focused sense." Lust, on the other hand,
still had its place: her shelves, with glass ashtrays,
tourist kitsch, postcards from the seventies,
requisite novels, although she didn't
read, displayed a veritable Who's Who
of lust, pre-condom mostly, or vintage,
as they say, thus giving even bondage
flicks an air of dignity. I didn't know
if she watched it anymore. Her former
friends, in exquisite frames, were dead; she had
helped bury them, and somehow eluded
death in the interim. As informer,
rather than target, she said, was how she served,
persuading death—although she hadn't tried—
to pass over, watching it, silent, glide
down to some other who must have deserved
it more—or so she confessed to feeling
at times, trying to reason why she'd survived
where even her enemies hadn't. Contrived
explanations left her sad head reeling.
Among the dead, although I didn't ask,
had to have been lovers—I didn't know
to ask—and she and I were there for show,
the endless present ending in a mask
she kept donning in the hospital bed
insisting, whatever the doctors did,
needles and blood work, sponge baths in the bed,
to keep her beard and moustache shaved, her head
dignified as I could fashion, which meant
wiping spittle from her chin, and learning
to sense which way it was her body meant
to go and, without waking her, turning
her that direction. In the parking lot
I'd smoke, scanning through The Smiths' The Queen
Is Dead, first the comical "Vicar in
a Tutu," then the sinister "Cemetry Gates."
- David J. Daniels (from Waccamaw)