I’ve been offering annotated versions of my chapbook Pink Plastic House on my website and Twitter for sometime now. The annotations give me a chance to feel like the teenage girl I perpetually am, to chatter diary style – to pass a note to my readers from a once professional schoolgirl about her poems, their influences and context. People have embraced these annotations, and I was honored when Tianna asked me to continue a bit of this new ritual of mine here.
Once a month, I’ll be posting a poem in the new Necropolis feature for my friends here at Rhythm & Bones Lit. Necropolis comes from the title of a sonnet of mine that was published in Mookychick and you can read it here. It’s a poem about sexual pasts, how they can haunt relationships and our lives. The Necropolis column will be exploring lots of variations on that theme, the skeletons of our past that we walk around with and survive, offer up to lovers and strangers, seek to understand ourselves and explain to others. My Passed Notes & Poems offering each month is both a blue-lined notebook paper teenage love letter to my readers and my own public therapy session via free association.
I’ll post a new sonnet (this one "Do I Look Like a Confessional" has been selected by Rhythm & Bones Lit to be a part of their Hunger issue in July. It certainly represents an evil hunger, but we’ll get to that later. That’s what the Passed Note section is about. Each month when I post my Passed Notes & Poems column, you’ll get a poem and a passed note straight from the twisted and sometimes topless heart of Kristin Garth here at Rhythm & Bones in Necropolis. Follow this column and Rhythm & Bones, and let’s pass notes and poems.
Kneesocks, cinnamon bears & love,
Passed Notes & Poems
Do I Look Like A Confessional *
the arching back against your shoulder, peach
erected nipple steeples that direct
your gaze to heaven? But I am in reach
right here when you whisper “You’re perfect.
You look just like my daughter,” while I pull
the Velcro of a plaid skirt, anesthetized
on lemon drop shots for hurts, mouthfuls,
sadistic commentary memorized
each table dance. Did you think it was okay,
your business trip topless pigtailed chance
to say you are just monster seeking prey?
You pay me cash, leave our unfinished dance.
I realize I don’t even know your name
I looked like absolution & a game.
*Watch for this poem to appear in our special themed issue at Rhythm & Bones, Issue 5: Hunger
In Pensacola, when you’re topless dancing, the law says you a topless body has to be x amount of inches from another body or you’re in violation of the law and can go to jail. When I was working (some years ago), this “x” was six inches. I attempted to research the current laws and was unsuccessful. The world of this poem is six inches from topless girl to seated client.
This law meant that at the topless club where I performed for five years in schoolgirl outfits, cheerleading uniforms, kneesocks, pigtails and braids, there was no touching and little close proximity to customers. We didn’t do lap dances. We did table dances where we danced in front of the customer (on the ground, not on the table itself as some have thought from the enticing-sounding terminology) and leaned in close, sometimes dangerously close against the glass walls.
The most intimate dance move that any of us performed was the backbend over a shoulder. I’m not sure that it was, in fact, legal. Though no one was ever arrested at my club during my tenure as a topless dancer, so the powers that be in Pensacola obviously found it non-offensive or desirable.
When your back is on a man’s shoulder, your ears are so close to his mouth, they confess things. You learn early on in your career, if you are meant to have one in this profession very long, to prepare yourself for constant uncomfortable confessions. Men who pay for the company of women feel free to say things without concern for feelings. Confessions range from the overly romantic (“I’ll leave my wife for you,”) the violently sexual (“If I could touch you, you would not be walking tomorrow,”), the casually cruel (“I guess you’re the girl they have working here for her personality.”) and then you have what I encountered in this poem the truly horrific (“You’re perfect. You look just like my daughter.”)
The confession in this poem was the worst I ever encountered. As a child abuse survivor, a girl attempting to use the financial security of being a stripper to break ties with my own abusers, this confession made me feel five years old and shivering. I stopped dancing, stopped moving. I think I had a PTSD response, realizing that I was not playing some sexual game that my mind had crafted of a past I did not choose, but I was with a real abuser.
I think he saw it in me, too – in my frozen posture and tears. He left me, the club while I went back to the dressing room and cried, platform stiletto kneesock clad legs clutched to my chest. The thing about a strip club dressing room is in its finest moments it is like a group therapy session. So many girls I worked with had experienced abuse. Petty rivalries and competition among dancers broke down in moments like this. Hugs and cocktails were in abundance this night while everyone confirmed they had never seen this man before, was probably an out-of-towner and we all had a terrible sick feeling of helplessness and anger. Then they fixed my smudged eyeliner that I could never apply myself and sent me back to more neon lights and confessions, though none worse than this.
I wrote this poem about your body in the arched position of a gothic temple being confused and used by this men as a confessional. One more way you become a receptacle for their baggage, their desires, even their monstrosities. I’ve been carrying this particular baggage around for a long, long time. Thank you for letting me relieve myself of it. Thanks for being my confessional.
Read more experiences from my professional schoolgirl topless past in my two upcoming poetry books from The Hedgehog Poetry Press, Shakespeare for Sociopaths (January 2019) and Candy Cigarette womanchild noir (a full length poetic collection.memoir forthcoming April 2019)