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"Esta Noche"--A Poem by Mark Doty

Esta Noche

In a dress with a black tulip’s sheen
    la fabulosa Lola enters, late, mounts the stairs
to the plywood platform, and begs whoever runs
    the wobbling spot to turn the lights down

to something flattering. When they halo her
    with a petal-toned gel, she sets to haranguing,
shifting in and out of two languages like gowns
    or genders to please have a little respect

for the girls, flashing the one entrancing
    and unavoidable gap in the center of her upper teeth.
And when the cellophane drop goes black,
    a new spot coronas her in a wig

fit for the end of a century,
    and she tosses back her hair—risky gesture—
and raises her arms like a widow in a blood tragedy,
    all will and black lace, and lipsyncs "You and Me

against the World." She’s a man
    you wouldn’t look twice at in street clothes,
two hundred pounds of hard living, the gap in her smile
    sadly narrative—but she’s a monument,   

in the mysterious permission of the dress.
    This is Esta Noche, a Latin drag bar in the Mission,
its black door a gap in the face
    of a battered wall. All over the neighborhood

storefront windows show all night
    shrined hats and gloves, wedding dresses,
First Communion’s frothing lace:
    gowns of perfection and commencement,

fixed promises glowing. In the dress
    the color of the spaces between streetlamps
Lola stands unassailable, the dress
    in which she is in the largest sense

fabulous: a lesson, a criticism and colossus
    of gender, all fire and irony. Her spine’s
perfectly erect, only her fluid hands moving
    and her head turned slightly to one side.

She hosts the pageant, Wednesdays and Saturdays,
    and men come in from the streets, the trains,
and the repair shops, lean together to rank
    the artifice of the awkward or lovely

Lola welcomes onto the stage: Victoria, Elena,
    Francie, lamé pumps and stockings and always
the rippling night pulled down over broad shoulders
    and flounced around the hips, liquid,

the black silk of esta noche
    proving that perfection and beauty are so alien
they almost never touch. Tonight, she says,
    put it on. The costume is license

and calling. She says you could wear the whole damn
    black sky and all its spangles. It’s the only night
we have to stand on. Put it on,
    it’s the only thing we have to wear.

From My Alexandria, by Mark Doty (©1993), reproduced by permission of the author and University of Illinois Press.

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