It’s the First of May so I’ve got my bindle
packed & ready to sling over my shoulder.
Gonna boxcar my way to the Barnum & Bailey
man & show ‘em what’s wrapped up in
my kerchief: a dress so gossamer-sheer
I don’t even have to take it off for the boys
to watch how I shimmy-shake,
every part of me aquiver.
My burlesque heart has joined the girlie show.
She’s all sequins & ribbons. My burlesque heart
shakes her spangled rear for you, hides her face
behind her ostrich-feather fan. My burlesque
heart cracks a dirty joke & pulls her clothes off
inch by agonizing inch, swaying to a slow drum
beat. For you, my burlesque heart undresses down
to pasties & g-string. She longs to get you alone
so you can see her as in the Garden of Eden:
stripped bare, nary a fig leaf in sight. My burlesque
heart is immodest. She’s such a tease.
Some days I am the Tattooed Lady. I dance to
the squeezebox moan, the bellows pushing dusty
breath huh-unnnhhh. I dance & flash a smile. I pull
down my collar, lift my shirt. I flirt by giving
them what they want: glimpses of pictures of my
life. Here a blue valentine, there a black rose. Night
hawk swoop across my shoulder, moon crescent
nestled in my cleavage. Poems typewritten & pricked
into my flesh. The accordion busts & the boys sing:
She’s got eyes that men adore so, & a torso, even
more so. Say, have you met—
My Dearest, Most Beautiful Baby—
Some days I’m the Half-Man/Half-Woman. All my
gender confusion solved by drawing a line down
the center of my body. My body becomes a house,
a country divided against itself. My left side exiled
to the Nation of Men, he wears a pinstripe suit
& slicks back his hair. Wears a pencil-thin mustache.
Stinks of pomade & roses. He has roses in his eyes,
his lips are petal-soft, & all the boys wonder what
it would be like to kiss him. My right side is Queen
of Woman-Country. She wears a little black dress
& a cheetah coat. Her voice is bedroom steam & she
reeks of dung & funnel cakes. When she enters the room
the girls all swoon.
They even love me as the Bird Girl. Barrel-chested,
covered in oil-dark plumes. Tufty baby feathers
sprouting from my head & my ragged squawk,
my tiny awkward songs. Sometimes they let me
out of my cage. I nest in the arms of Dolly Dimples,
ride on Alex the Strongman’s smallest finger.
The freaks feed me plump red berries & wriggling
bugs. They stroke my tufted head. Gabba gabba,
they say. We accept you, dear. One of us.
One of us.
Jessie Lynn McMains is a multi-genre writer. They were the recipient of the 2019 Hal Prize for poetry. Their book-length poem, The Loneliest Show On Earth, is forthcoming from Bottlecap Press in February 2020. You can find their website at recklesschants.net, or find them on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram @rustbeltjessie