Belly Dancer at the Hotel Jerome
Disguised as an Arab, the bouzouki player
introduces her as Fatima, but she’s blond,
midwestern, learned to move we suspect
in Continuing Education, Tuesdays, some hip
We’re ready to laugh,
this is Aspen,
Colorado, cocaine and blue valium
the local hard liquor, and we
with snifters of Metaxa in our hands,
part of the incongruous
that passes for harmony here.
But she’s good. When she lets her hair loose,
beautiful. So we revise:
summer vacations, perhaps, in Morocco
or an Egyptian lover, or both.
This much we know:
no Protestant has moved like this
since the flames stopped licking their ankles.
Men rise from dinner tables
to stick dollar bills where their eyes
have been. One slips a five
in her cleavage. When she gets to us
she’s dangling money
with a carelessness so vast
it’s art, something perfected, all her bones
floating in milk.
The fake Arabs on bongos and bouzouki are real
musicians, urging her, whispering
“ Fatima, Fatima,” into the mike
and it’s true, she has danced the mockery out
of that wrong name in this unlikely place,
she’s Fatima and the cheap, conspicuous dreams
are ours, rising now, as bravos.
– by Stephen Dunn
The Hotel Jerome is in Aspen – I’ve never stayed there, but the J-Bar is simply a classic bar that may be the epitome of old school. We’ve happened upon it a couple times, and enjoyed it for what it is.
Last night, I found this poem in the Night Out poetry anthology I mentioned buying when I wrote about Laure-Anne Bosselaar’s Stillbirth. It’s funny to read poetry about a place you have visited – it adds importance to a place that was completely fine as it was. Then I looked up the Hotel Jerome on Wikipedia, and learned about the wild times of cocaine and celebrities at the J-Bar. Yes, there once was belly-dancing in the room downstairs.
Imaginary gardens with real toads, indeed.
All that aside, I really enjoyed this poem. There’s so much reality in it – it’s kind of awful. Belly dancing is not stripping, and Fatima is a name common among the Shia. Some midwestern blond is misappropriating culture in the basement of a cocaine and valium-fueled hotel. The spectators are prepared to laugh, though a more politically correct response would be to be appalled.
But then it turns human. She’s a good dancer, and she lifts the crowd above the mockery and to a point of appreciation. The speaker in the poem shifts his assumptions about her talent’s provenance from a Continuing Education class to travel and love. Something good happens in that sordid, wrong location, so full of wrong cultural impulses.