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  • It’s Saturday night and all the heterosexuals
  • in smart little dresses and sport coats
  • are streaming into what we didn’t know
  • was the hottest spot between Las Vegas and LA.
  • Janet and I are in jeans and fleece — not a tube of lipstick
  • or mascara wand between us. Grayheads:
  • a species easy to identify without a guidebook —
  • the over-the-hill lesbian couples of the Pacific Northwest.
  • Janet’s carrying our red-and-white cooler with snacks for the road
  • across the marble tile of the Art Deco lobby
  • when we turn and see the couple
  • entering through the tall glass doors, slicing
  • through the crowd like a whetted blade. The butch
  • is ordinary enough, a stocky white woman
  • in tailored shirt and slacks, but the confection —
  • no, the pièce de résistance — whose hand she holds
  • is of another genus entirely.
  • Her cinnamon sheen, her gold dress
  • zipped tighter than the skin of a snake.
  • And her deep décolletage, exposed enough for open-heart surgery.
  • She’s a yacht in a sea of rowboats.
  • An Italian fountain by Bernini.
  • She’s the Statue of Liberty. The Hubble Telescope
  • that lets us gaze into the birth of galaxies.
  • O, may they set that hotel room ablaze, here
  • in this drab land of agribusiness and oil refineries,
  • outdoing Pittsburgh as the top polluted city in the nation, trash it
  • like rock stars, rip up the 300 thread-count sheets,
  • free the feathers from the pillows.
  • And may that grand femme be consumed
  • right down to the glitter on her sling-back four-inch stilettos
  • and whatever she’s glued on her magnificent skin
  • to keep the plunge of that neckline from careening clear off the curve.

Ellen Bass’s poetry collections include The Human Line, Mules of Love, and the groundbreaking anthology of women’s poetry, No More Masks! She is coauthor of The Courage to Heal and Free Your Mind. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, The New Republic, and The Kenyon Review. Among her awards is a Pushcart Prize, Pablo Neruda Prize, Larry Levis Prize from Missouri Review, and the New Letters Prize. “At the Padre Hotel in Bakersfield, California” was originally published in The Sun and will be included in her forthcoming collection, Like a Beggar, from Copper Canyon Press. She teaches in the MFA program at Pacific University. The author’s photo is by Irene Young.

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