he closed in on me after midnight, uttering a guttural growl.
You know -- the universal language all women understand.
Fear hardened to rage before I stopped and turned,
planting my feet wide apart like the soldiers,
I held up my umbrella like a cudgel.
Come on, MUTHERFUCKER, you want trouble? Here it is.
Startled, the scrawny little turd threw down his fat cigarette and,
bolting over the underground rail, disappeared down the ramp.
He understood mutherfucker.
I calmed myself thinking of the dazzling, Klimptian women
I had watched in the Hotel Imperial while having my dinner for one.
The woman facing me wore a frizzy splash of glorious rufous hair
haloed by the wall sconce behind her;
the other, a moneyed, raven chignon spiked
above her Modigliani neck with a chopstick.
Bulbous rings on their tapered forefingers,
bold earrings weighing down their earlobes,
spidery lashes splashed above their cheeks like rhyming sentinels.
Were they whores? I imagined them high-class call girls.
Their air of sheer indifference to everything
in the dark paneled room, its dim hush --
their untouched goose confit, the waiters,
the way they unnoticed them while
their balloon-shaped glasses were being refilled,
as if with crushed rubies.
The intensity of their conspiratorial conversation,
the way they imperiously held their cigarettes,
resting their elbows on the table until a waiter
appeared to light them and place down a clean ashtray.
When they paid their bill and rose to leave
they turned and smiled at me, and, nodding as if to say
they knew what I was thinking, they made me blush.
In my top floor room, restless and lonely, you weren’t there.
I sat in my window looking to the street three floors below,
taking drag after drag on my cigarette.
Suddenly, the flash of a lighter in the window
opposite mine framed a man, also smoking --
in the dark. He held the flame
just long enough for me to see his face.
Had he been watching me in my bra and panties
sitting in the Viennese February air in an open window?
I lit another Viceroy and made no move to dress
or turn off the lamp that illuminated me from behind.
The ash on his cigarette glowed as he raised his hand to his mouth
and dropped it to his thigh.
I’d finished my goose confit, and my brassiere gripped my ribs.
Unsnapping it, I tossed it to the floor.
He stubbed his cigarette on his windowsill, and, upping the game,
cranked his window open wide and stripped off his shirt.
I stood and slipped my panties down my thighs
bending over to lift them from my ankle, dangling them
for just a moment, letting his eyes roam over my backside.
Then, seated again, I lit another cigarette.
Overplaying my hand, I traced my nipples, eyes front, glittering,
chin high, defiant -- like Judith’s holding up Holofernes’ head.
The dark windows in his building seemed
to hold a thousand night eyes gazing at me.
I flicked my cigarette to the street where
it landed close to a soldier’s feet.
Startled, he stomped on it and looked up.
I stuffed the bed pillows onto the window seat
to cushion my knees as I touched myself for the stranger.
He lit another cigarette. My eyes followed it
as it traced the arc between his lip and his lap.
He watched while I buried my face in the pillows,
ass up, working myself until I finished in shudder after shudder.
In all, he chain smoked three cigarettes for me.
Only when I knelt upright again
licking my finger palm to tip did he switch on his lamp,
saluting me in profile with his rigid cock.
I lit my own cigarette, leaned back into the window wall
and soon saw the white jet gush out his window,
landing, like spit, close to where my cigarette had.
The soldier recoiled slightly and looked up again briefly.
And then, eyes front, locked hands on his weapon.
Gute Nacht, my stranger called softly to me
before closing his window and then his light.
Since I met you, I’ve always wondered.
Was it you that night?
Merilyn Jackson has written regularly on dance for The Philadelphia Inquirersince 1996 and writes on dance, theater, food, travel and Eastern European culture and Latin American fiction for many publications. Since 1993, more than 1000 of her articles have appeared in publications as diverse as The New York Times, The Warsaw Voice, The Arizona Republic, The Phoenix New Times, MIT’s Technology Review, and Arizona Highways, Dance, Pointe and Dance Teacher magazines, Broad Street Review. Currently, she also writes for tanz magazine, Berlin and Ballet Review.
She has been dance-critic-in-residence at the 2001 Contemporary Dance Festival in Silesia, Poland and in 2015 at Tanz-Im August Festival Berlin from where she interviewed and wrote about Lucinda Childs for the Philadelphia Inquirer. She was awarded an NEA Critics Fellowship in 2005 to Duke University; a $5000 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship for her novel-in-progress, Solitary Host. A chapter of that novel appeared in the Massachusetts Review in the Fall 2004 “Food Matters” issue.
In 2012 she attended poetry workshops at Colgate University and Sarah Lawrence College, working with poets Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Peter Balakian and Tom Lux, respectively. Several her poems appear in Andrei Codrescu’s Exquisite Corpse, Poeisis Review 6, Poetry Nook, Cleaver, Columbia University’s Catch and Release, Poetry Ink and Broad Street Review.
Much of her writing can be read on her personal blog Prime Glib a repository for her some of her published works.