Models & Marie Antoinette: Two Escapes



Even tight, feared spaces can expand, morphing from the past

into the fuzz of nostalgia, which I’ll try to avoid here,

e.g., #1, me at 16, looking for the “model studio” listed

in the Manhattan Yellow Pages. Toting a portfolio, I climb

the stairs of a West 40s walkup worn as another century.

“Models?” “No, that’s Cheekie, 2 flights up,”

one red talon points to heaven and off I go. 

A woman in a sheer negligee greets me, opens the door wider:

I take in a stripped-bare space, commercial buzz, the motion

of flouncing baby dolls, lace bra the black center

of a blinding white circle, and Cheekie, I assume,

behind the tripod. The image flickers across my retina,

then burns in. The hallway presses close, and my skin feels tight,

as if about to chip off in jagged bits like the ancient green paint.

I flew from there—no, plunged—a bird escaping fire.


e.g., #2, someone lit matches after the creaky elevator cable

snapped and plunged its human load

that New Year’s Eve in SoHo. I believe

it was Marie Antoinette in drag. I remember her coiffure,

towering ice sculpture frozen to perfection,

and satin billows that regally occupied half the elevator,

brushing against the perturbed ventriloquist who clutched

his dummy tighter. Neither had spoken all night, stopping

conversation instead with their sudden appearance and stares

in the center of happy talkers. Yes, I’m certain it was the Queen

who struck matches from a book hidden in décolletage,

holding up each brief, tiny flame like a torch, guiding us

once we hit bottom—jarred but not hurt—feeling

our way through the pitch of a basement

that could have been a Bastille dungeon, but wasn’t.


Maria Terrone is the author of three poetry collections including Eye to Eye (Bordighera Press, 2014) and a chapbook. Her work has appeared in magazines such as Poetry and Ploughshares and more than 25 anthologies. She is the poetry editor of Italian Americana.

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