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Sometime after midnight, I was broke

and living on bagels and waiting to go on

at the Pussycat Lounge. What kind of place

hires a girl with just a once-over and a question

about her stage name? The kind that pays

only in cash. I wasn’t sure I’d be up to it

but Roxy promised the money was great

and I’d learn to love my body more than ever

once I got the hang of it. Her practiced arms

in bright fishnets, coaching me in the wings.

Like this, like this. I copied, trying to be enticing,

eyeing the exit. I did not belong here, among

such glittered sylphs. Then the boss nodded,

and it was my turn, and the song changed,

Amy Winehouse rasping through the speakers

like a big fat cigar she’d been smoking all her life,

like she’d seen a thing or two and it made her feel

roughed up and full, way down deep in the place

where her voice began, so I took that stage,

casting off layers as I went, until all I was

was pixie cut and red thong and six-inch heels

in the floor to ceiling mirror, scoping myself

as I swayed from new heights, reaching down

to pluck bills and tuck them into my underwear

that glowed under those lights, everything looked

good under those lights, even my dusted-up

luggage of muscle and stubble and ducts,

and my borrowed shoes stabbed the bar like

intervention and sweet Jesus she was right,

I’d pay me. I’d pay the fuck out of me.

BETSY HOUSTEN is a queer writer and massage therapist who earned her MFA at the University of New Orleans and makes her home in Brooklyn. Her writing appears in Autostraddle, Sundog Lit, Rogue Agent, Entropy, and elsewhere, and has been nominated for Best New Poets, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize. You can find her at

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