The Red Lacquer Room--for Lynda Hull
by Christine Swanberg

We were hiding in the Red Lacquer Room,
the empty dance floor of the grand old Palmer House
deep in the center of Chicago with its black canyons,

dark sky scrapers, faint friction, sparks of the El
clambering like a craving. You said I’d be surprised
how you had lost your beauty. Thin

as a refugee, your black and blue babushka twirled
into a turban, high Bohemian style, you seemed
more like a ragged survivor than the gypsy that you were.

Dear Lynda, even when we dared
flick on the great white chandeliers
of the Red Lacquer Room, I knew the streets

had won but pretended we crouched together
in a lovely surreal dream where happy endings
bright as crystal chandeliers in ballrooms still glow.

I thought surely you might find a way past
the city’s chaos, the jagged graffiti, the stone souls.
I thought you might find stillness in the lake’s

lapping tongues, a lilting gull, some small place
not quite ecstasy. No, you could never
be consoled by compromise, or live slowly

to keep an ending less violent: that slippery slope
in winter near Provincetown. The fatal crash.
Gone too, the Red Lacquer Room’s sparkling lights.

Lynda, know that when I think of you
I still see envelopes of poems crossing the Atlantic
jet streams from the Heartland to Barcelona

where a dark siren song lured you to a strange park
full of circus mirrors at the edge of town.
Sometimes distortion is all the magic we have.

No matter. To me you will always be
my muse, my mentor, my mirror,
my dark mistress of the gypsy jazz night

First published in THE RED LACQUER ROOM, Chiron Press, 2001.

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