On June 24, 1973, The UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans, was firebombed, resulting in the death of 32 people who were locked inside. The city dismissed the need for a thorough investigation and disposed of some of the bodies in a mass grave without allowing the bodies to be identified. Nobody was ever convicted.
You compressed your chest and torso
to fit between the bars of the window,
a space no wider than the length
of an average man’s foot. On fire,
you fell like another piece of debris
blown out the window. Let me catch you.
Here, jump onto this trampoline
that never came, charge down these lines
like fire escapes, leap into the space
where you’ll never have to fall.
But who am I for you to trust?
They say it was another gay man
who started this fire, who doused
the stoop in lighter fluid before dropping
the match. And all that I have done
is write poems, more rooms
for you to enter and never leave.
Let me try something else:
You’re in the UpStairs Lounge drinking
an Old Fashioned with Reverend
Larson, talking about Acts and his sermon
on Pentecost. Mitch and Louis dance
by the jukebox blasting Cher and fire
hangs above your heads, calls your names.