Last night at the mambo cinema, with its wide screen
      diamond sheen, my medulla oblongata
was knocked back to the Stone Age, primal scream
      rising as I took my seat like a black sheep, Red Queen,
a two-ton gorilla of white light on the noir scene,
      my kundalini shaking like the late-night shriek
of a wino in the middle of Tennessee Street, sick
      of the sky and its deluge of thunder and sun.
Last night at the mambo cinema I was the Hun
      in Garbo’s eyes again, her sideways voice, Russian chic,
a Red this time, on the lam in Paris, drinking its music,
      champagne, her cheekbones fading into Faye Dunaway’s
just before the machine gun blast. O Mrs. Mulwray,

last night at the mambo cinema, I was dancing
      with Ringo and 50 Cent, all the low-rent fencing
between pop and hip-hop a dream. Michelangelo
      in the scaffolding, between the beams his rococo
Old Testament unfolding like the silent screen, John
      Gilbert’s moustache on Noah’s puss, dim-bulb, neo-con
of the big flood, bad blood between him and God, his girls
      trying on suede boots, Manolo slingbacks, in a whirl
while Marie Antoinette paced back stage, wig askew
      itching for her top billing in the knife-fight beef stew
of history. Last night at the mambo cinema
      I was kissing Keanu Reeves, the sad enema
of daylight melting in the cracked sundown Crimea

of my mind, a middle-school fumble in the dark. Hark
      hark, the gods do bark, hurl their thunderous quarks
into the rathskeller of the twentieth century
      burning my back as I run away. O hail Mary
full of firestorms, hallowed be thy payday, cause last
      night on the mambo highway I was serving some fast
food chili dogs to Mao and Idi Amin, crying
      my eyes out over the red onions, burgers frying
on the slick grill, my black mouth a shill for the crap shoots,
      jack boots, quick shags in the shed, lost again on the root
canal of love. Last night I quivered in a dark room,
      waiting for a stranger, a strangler, the old big boom
to blow me into another body, the sweet tomb

of my mind scratching its lottery tickets, sure win
      this time. Last night I was seven again, my blue Schwinn
gliding down the Champs-Elysées, four in the morning,
      my feet on the handlebars, blonde hair streaming, learning
how to move in the dark—dancing Jesus!—seeing how far
      a poor girl could get with a firefly tiara
and a bellyful of Keats. Last night I was dreaming
      of you—my heart attack, lymphoma, low-rent beaming
rattlesnake reunion with the other side, red tide
      taking me away on the cholera sea where I’d
like to find a key, please, or a map, because X marks
      the spot on my heart, my chart, my evolving part-
Mexican diorama of the New World, the smart

ass conquistadors stinking in their tin suits. Last night
      I was the sacrificial maiden on the far right,
two hundred of us buck naked on the high altar
      of blood and breasts, last requests filtering in, Walter
Matthau, high priest with a Sonny Bono wig, necklace
      of Aztec gold, raising his knife to the tender place
at the base of my throat, the final vote. Last night I
      woke up sweating, Nefertiti again, wondering, “Why
can’t I move?” wrapped in a hundred thousand dirty looks
      with the presidential contenders, the corner crooks,
because there’s no plan, no script, no high Jacobean
      biblical conclave to translate this fog, the seam
between who we are and our two-bit movieland dream.


Barbara Hamby’s third book Babel won the 2003 AWP/Donald Hall Prize and was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. “Mambo Cinema” is from her new manuscript All-Night Lingo Tango. She teaches at Florida State University.

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