The Madame was conceived, but never born. She wrote on the shadowy walls of some feminine void for centuries, quill dripping with the quiet of her solitude. One day she heard something from the outside: "We shall be fat, gentlemen, but never happy." In that very instant, she stepped out of the womb like a nude from a painting, a starlet from the silver screen, cool, milky & voluptuously formed, reflective pools in her big grey eyes.
Right away she had offers - big, exagerated Hollywood offers - but she took off on horseback across the plains.
When she laid her lovers down in the fields, her hair would swirl about their faces, a fiery mahogany frame for no picture she might afford to see. She remembers, "It's a beautiful accent, ma vie en rouge, but where is it from?" She swore her mouth would never make that shape again.
Having emptied their pockets, she would flee in the night - millions amassed in a cluster of rock, metal & paper. Several ocean liners & one anachronistic stagecoach later, & she found herself here - doing her good work in worship of the two most vital traditions in this world.
Don't ask more of her origin. Do not question the work. Everything you need know of this woman, she can see - slathered all over your forehead in brilliant, black ink.
What little we know of Tennessee Pink we have pieced together, from bathroom walls, American folk songs, and the names he shouts in the rare moments of fitful sleep he suffers in the night. And from his poems, which mention the darkness of days in caves and crumbling houses, the exhaust of men and ancient machines, Crimean lips and the shipwrecks he has scavenged. We often think he is uncomfortable on land or above it. He would be more at home with a shovel in his hand or a tiller, but he is ours for now, perhaps by some spell or great debt, he is held here. He will read to you but be wary. Tennessee has traveled in many directions and knows where much is hidden, he is at ease in the darkness and will be happiest to find you there, going along with him, toward some perfect wound, enclosed in a tiny, imperceptible blossom, making pain.
Mister Charley is pleased as pie to be your Master of Ceremonies. While not a poet himself, he has spent the last few months perfecting his first haiku. He can sing you a song or play you a tune or pretend to be someone else for a while.
Antonius Funk sidled his way up to the Madame one fine evening, a mischievous glint in his eye, and set forth a proposition. Whatever he suggested must have been good, as he's been handling the girls ever since. Watch out for this one. He'll take your money and only leave you with a good time.
Born a Viking baby, all she wanted to do was beat up and chase boys. Strong for her size, she seemed to heal faster than her peers. As one of the first mysterious "stunt women" of the time, she threw herself off buildings, down stairs, and kicked some ass if provoked. Her courage and resilience have been rumored as a major source of inspiration for modern day female Super Heroes. Her friends call her Captain.
Penelope Strangelight, known affectionately to her three and a half friends as "Penny Strange", was born in an orange grove in the foothills of Mount Diablo. She fully comprehended the universe once, but then forgot it again a moment later. She subsists entirely on whiskey and emu burgers (with arugula and lemon), and bathes only in moonmilk. All of the world's lost keys jangle on a chain around her neck.
Until the moonvines have blossomed she cannot sleep. She uses purple tulip blood as ink when she writes. Once, she married a one-armed waiter in a Spanish mountain side, but entropy got the better of them. Her entire house is made of umbrellas, but she spends most nights in the city because her bedroom is too drafty. She paints her nails with silver fish-scales and only celebrates the Japanese version of Valentines Day. The only fight she's ever had was with a palm-reader on a rooftop in Brooklyn. She owns the cat that has everyone's tongues and has named him Oskar.
She is a chemist, but uses the Oxford English Dictionary in place of the Table of Elements, (for when certain words are combined they can cause far more damage than mere compounds reacting with oxidizing elements.) She wears protective lenses when working with such combustive language. She has mapped the chemical makeup of her DNA and finds it bears a striking resemblance to Mina Loy's Songs to Joannes.
Von Hohenheim has been born 15 separate times. Eternal life, gained by moving his soul into the bodies of others, became his at the tender age of 17. Each old face and name runs in his veins and out through his pen. After 906 years, the only things that have stayed the same are his two true loves: ink and gold. He has forgotten the taste of food. The voices he speaks in are masks, his gestures more like ventriloquism. Watch for the tremble in his step, the scratching in his voice - he's not used to this new pair of legs yet.
The night that Lux was conceived, a star shot white hot through the May sky and fell into her mother's womb. For nine months, the butcher's wife burned supernova. While the butcher handled knives and the wager of death against life, his wife waged her own intergalactic war, a bet on life against death. The fever almost took mother and child both, but on a frozen day, the heat gave way. The soul of a star born in the body of a girl. A child not meant for this world, she had been on course for elsewhere but due north never worked cross-cosmos. The doctor spanked her so she would adjust to the hurt in this place, and so she screamed, but so she breathed, and they called her Lux for the light that came out of her lungs.
For a price, you can taste the star that died to make her.
When Yngvildr (Ynga for short) was a young girl, discreet and naive, a travelling photographer arrived in her village. The elders felt leery of the man's dastardly moustache and novel apparatus, but soon enough, the bravest of the young were spending their nights creeping over to the photographer's tent. They posed bright before klieg lights while he ducked under the shade and snapped.
Yngvildr came too, but hung back, just watched. "Come on," they cajoled. "You won't like what will happen," said she. "Just try it," they wheedled. The photographer concurred. "Come, dear. Take a picture."
So she too took her place before the lens. "Stand still," the photographer barked, grown crisp with success. "I will," said Yngvildr, obedient - and she did. Her eyes met the man's through the camera's glass. For a second, he shivered. Then all was dust. Lens popped, lights blew, the tent caved in. The photographer reeled, blinded, as Yngvildr tossed aside the velvet and sprinted away, where she remains to this day: fleeing world round with her arresting gaze.
Be careful where you let her fling it. Be wary, too, around her words, which are just a softer version of a stare that cuts glass.
Mavi is the flower of a passionate union between an Ottoman sultan and his harem queen. She grew up drinking jasmine tea and playing hide-and-seek among marble columns and bougainvillea. Mavi followed in her mother's footsteps, learning the art of seduction along with her reading, writing, and arithmetic. When she 10 years old, her mother planted a seed on the back of her left arm, which has blossomed into the ink image of a small fig tree and continues to grow as she does.
At the age of 16, she was sent across the Bosphorus to Paris, where she began taking Kir Royale along with her opium pipe and became the model and muse for a Swedish ex-pat nearly thrice her age. When she tired of the Parisian chimney soot and her affairs with sullen, bourgeois Frenchmen, she hopped a train to the Basque country and studied writing and herbalism with the renowned poet-wildcrafter, Maria Jose Artemesia Absinthium.
Mavi collects words and stories in a glass jar under her bed, which she weaves into Stinging Nettle cordage every night. It is said that her words make the blood run hot in the hearts and nether-regions of men and women alike.
In her free time, Mavi makes herbal potions for herself and her lovers. Her favorite word is "decoction" and her favorite herb is Belladonna.
Cal came from a small town near the Canadian border, but due to his apparent affinity for bigger things, the townsfolk raised money to send him away at the age of 13 to study under a traveling alchemist who came through town, selling cures for everything from lady troubles to clubfoot. Full of aspirations and feeling chafed under the overly scientific Dr. Sharrick, Cal joined a traveling circus to fund his own alchemic studies. So far entirely unable to make the fabled transition from lead to gold (or for that matter to achieve much more than turning a cat into a hairless cat), Cal is nonetheless committed and convinced in his aspirations to turn the vulgar into the beautiful, the mundane to the divine. Working any odd jobs at hand, he has spent his life trying to find a way to turn the transparently basic into the unequivocally divine - or at least blur the line between the two.
Dr. Pepper has an insatiable love for all things that go pop or can be swallowed. Fiery and overzealous, like all good Aries, and prone to bouts of distraction at the operating table. He'll open you up and show you what you've got inside.
Genevieve is a courtesan from 19th century France. At the prime of her life she met the man of her dreams - a handsome young woodworker with eyes as blue as the ocean at night. He crafted her beautiful boxes made of Malaysian Mahogany in which she stowed her most precious perfumes and love potions. The two planned to buy a boat and sail across the world, never letting their feet touch the horrible, cruel earth again.
One fateful night however, during a thunderstorm she returned home to find one of her patrons angrily pacing the cobblestone walk that led to her front door. He could not stand that she had fallen in love with another man, and vowed - to her and to god and to the stars that she descended from - that she would never love again, if she would not love him. He placed a curse on her. She was murdered that night - drowned by him in her own bathtub that had been filled with saltwater and a single one of his tears.
On the hundred-year anniversary of her death, Thomas Edison invented a ghost machine that brought her back to life. Now she roams the streets of New York, looking for her long-lost love, hoping he has been reincarnated too. Wherever she goes she is accompanied by her immortal pet goldfish that she rescued from a carnival, and neither of them can last for longer than 24 hours without being near a river or ocean or some body of water. She eats only caviar, drinks only champagne, and is legally blind if she is in a room that is not lit by chandeliers.
Be warned: do not stare into her eyes for more than a few seconds at a time. It will be tempting because when you look into them you will see heaven in her earth-brown colored pupils, but if you make this grave mistake and fall into her gaze's trance the rest of your days will be doomed with the curse of the missing lover as well.
Obsidienne has the smallest wrists.
Llewellyn Louise was born on a ship crossing the Atlantic from a quiet town off the coast of Ireland. Perpetually seasick, Llewellyn's mother couldn't read books to her, so she made up stories instead, but died of consumption before ever arriving in America. Two weeks later, Llewellyn exited the ship feeling alone and from that day on. She found independence an easier state of mind to maintain than anything involving anybody else for longer than a few hours at a time.
From a very young age, she found she had a powerful but chaotic talent for magic, enchanting animals to attack when someone upset her and conjuring thunderstorms when turned on. After accidentally causing a panther to throw her first lover off a cliff, she sought out the help of another witch to mentor her. The witch taught her that in order to harness her gift, she had to learn to first imagine the narrative she wanted before creating it. So began the only love affair that ever lasted: writing.
Victoria Copperfield comes from a prosperous home a mile off the road in wooded New England. She feels deeply rooted in proper etiquette, books, and black ink illustrations. She has a penchant for men and women who couldn't care less about what people think of them. She adores brawlers, drinkers, and musicians. She doesn't like being told no.
Laura-Lee Gunstreet was born and raised on the top floor, in the darkest corner of the brothel. She collects feathers and words there. When she is writing she is searching for an alternate universe. When she leaves feathers she is claiming it as her own.
She enjoys walking barefoot in the parlor. Though young, she knows the town is sinking and the moon is baleen. She looks at it through glass bottles. There's amnesia in her kiss. She's a swan but a pistol. She can't help dancing to the sound of a piano. Mother, Jennifer has taught her everything she knows. Father unknown. The sound of the girls singing and the smell of a cigar is her mother's perfume.
The brothel has become her home and she will continue to collect feathers there. As she grows she knows that as long as it is snowing somewhere, the world isn't ending.
Ursula Giovanna de Gassion, a pale, devastated whore, was born in Paris and orphaned at an early age. She grew up on the streets and as soon as she reached her teen years she became a heartbreaker. Every one of Ursula's lovers has committed suicide. This sounds unlikely but it's true. Ursula has a penchant for looking off in the distance and sighing a lot. She would never approach you with verses. Lately, she's been afraid of getting close to anyone because she fears that being her lover might be the last thing you'll ever do. Ms. Gassion is terribly addicted to absinthe and has only become more of a mess since joining The Poetry Brothel. One minute, you'll think she's too reliable or straight for this business but then she'll then disappear from drinking too much for three maybe four days. When she returns to Madame, she is hungrier than the others. Ursula hates to be alone. Clients like her sadness because they think that maybe they can tear her out of this place. But the truth is, this is her home. This nihilistic girl can usually be found near her Ouija board... or the bar.
Oola Waistbinder is an artist and writer. Ms. Waistbinder has published three collections of poetry, "Ribeye," "The Discovery of Bones Should Be Frightening," and "The Beard I Knew I'd Find You By." Her dental floss mobiles have been featured at the Centre Pompidou, and she has choreographed two commissioned pieces for UNESCO," "Slick as the Fingers That Slapped Her," and "Somersaulting Crawfish."
Ms. Waistbinder spent her childhood in New England and moved to Switzerland as a teenager. An avid alpinist, Waistbinder has bivouacked on the Dufourspitze and much of her work draws inspiration from her experiences climbing.
Educated at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Waistbinder is the 2009 Barbe à Papa Fellow.
Originally corset-makers, the Waistbinders were among the first settlers to land at Plimouth Plantation. Ms. Waistbinder is working on a family history that includes a catalog of Pilgrim undergarments along with first-person accounts of romance at Plimoth Rock.
After seeing one of Ms. Waistbinder's site-specific installations in Amsterdam's red light district, she was invited to join the Brothel by The Madame. Ms. Waistbinder is delighted to be a part of this community where love and creativity is celebrated openly. She is currently developing a memoir based on her experimental collaborations with other members of the Brothel.
A historically notorious mistress of whim and gypsy-influence, Car, has poeted through the ages as the secretly most influential woman to write and sail and ship-jump between Balboa and Columbus. Much later in her career, Car gallantly matched the daring entrepreneurial aggressiveness of Revere, Adams and Edison with poetical propaganda for the New World, those first rustic colonies and the little known advancement of Revere's silver and art trade. (It is also from her body that Edison imagined the womanly shape of the first light bulb). Iroquois Indian cave drawings have even depicted her trademark dress, black Rapunzel hair and bright green eyes. To be inside the mortar of a firework as it explodes into hot ash and golden air is to be inside the poem of Car. Each line dares you to a tryst with their Dali-esque twists, melting clocks and brilliantine booming.
It was a heavy walk through the Floridian swamps. Fire under her fingernails, fever in her heart. She developed the slow blink. Gasping breath. Irregular spasms of joy. Absorbed in guilt, she croons of lost hearts and the spaces we left abandoned. Harriett Van Os, of fire-breathers, tamed the hunger. What results is waste. Her poems, this story, seeping from her bones like sweat onto these sheets.
Oliver Durant like most of you has been orphaned by the trying times of the world; in his case it was the peasant uprising which left him all that remains of the royal line. He has spent most of the intertwining years in door jams and under neon signs. Surprisingly he's not soured by any of this, but still don't mention the scar. You don't want to know. He's happy you're here.
a small pale child dressed as the grim reaper
jaw dropped eyes rolled back teeth bared
to effect terror
a speeding train over thin ice
pulling into a station
waiting 6 seconds
you are missing it
the scene is in black and white
a pale man in dark clothes across the platform, rose in hand
a blaring red rose
another train comes
you let it pass
he is gone
when you close your eyes his grey angular face
let your jaw drop roll your eyes back bare your teeth
Simone was found floating between the edge of an ocean and reality, one foggy morning last spring. In these early days of her youth, she is bound to be someone you will never actually know. Although she will make you want to. Her ability to illuminate silence and cast shadows about words always leaves her audience wanting more. She is blunt, but seems to find a way to slip some subversion under your radar, registering in your emotion before you've had a chance to impose logic. Her work primarily aims to explore the relationship between the emotional palate and the ways language seeks to define it, which has proved a murky, sordid task. She lives and works in Brooklyn as a Night Creature.
Wants you. Now. The Professor is almost famous in several disciplines. An award-winning Historian of Science she is also adorable and a bit of a tart. In a recent Poets & Writers review of the Poetry Brothel, the Professor was called an "oracular poet" and that is what she wants to do to you: get Delphic all up on you. A bundle of riddles, barely wrapped in a chiffon enigma, she is a well-known atheist and yet practices the dark art of looking into the eyes of perfect strangers and reading their souls. Long before she met you, she heard the wail of your striving heart drifting over the spires of skyscrapers and she wrote a poem for you, for right now. Come get it. Women may touch her anywhere. The Professor has a PhD in history from Columbia University and is the author of five books of poetry, history, religion, and philosophy.
The Butler is most often of an indeterminate mood. In his free time, attires himself in gray sweat suits; rumored to have once shot a woman with a pistol; believes in robust exercise. Vents resentment through a series of tiny revolts; when alone, hums; when comfortable, can be witty; is adored by children though can't quite figure why. Practices amateur psychoanalysis, and pencils his fantasies into a notebook; has a recurring dream in which he walks up to a rude visitor, dips a large shrimp in cocktail sauce, then inserts it wordlessly into said guest's breast pocket. Frequently begins sentences, "Anyhow..." Self-reliant, possessed of unusual hand strength, he enjoys the pleasures of categorization. Prefers cats.
An indeterminate number of years ago, I decided to escape from my lush but confined life in the jewel city of China-- strapped with gold and jade, I headed for the Silk Road, soon forced to subside on nothing but powdered jade, a little-known Chinese elixir for immortality. Having roamed for centuries through the Middle East, I eventually found la Ville-Lumiere, and years later, London. It was in the city of Londres that I fell deeply in love with a brilliant bon vivant who united all the charms my imagination had dreamt of. Alas, it was certain that this was a love that could never be, as this young man had been engaged to a distant cousin since birth.
The thought of this impossible love haunted me during every hour of the day, and my mind became so tormented that I began to indulge in opium for forgetfulness-- repeatedly, constantly. From that point on, a life of hedonism became the vehicle I used to bide the fingers of time while drifting through an endless array of smoky, dream-like encounters. I was told that Hector Berlioz transcribed my stories in his Symphonie Fantastique. I was unaware.
The Chinese surmise I was kidnapped by Turks during the An Shi rebellion; the French speculate that I was murdered with an ivory Laguiole in the 19th century.
Anais Anais emerged, fully formed, from a glass orb that winked above the filthy smokestacks of Detroit. Having thoroughly wiped the oil from her silken slippers, she now entertains herself by drifting down the Seine on her houseboat, working on her eye makeup, penning erotica for private subscribers, and keeping up with the Millers. Kept by Hugo Hugo, she flits alone through the European capitals, collecting patrons and adding notches to her well-carved bedpost. This multilingual libertine makes her powder money in the analyst's chair, teasing out the repression from your dreams and occasionally joining you on the velvet couch, in a strictly professional capacity, of course. On her off days, she can be found reclining in her garter belt and stockings, reading Slavic poetry and crooning to her pet chinchillas.
Rusalka once entranced entire opera houses with her ethereal voice. But it did not take long for her patrons to recognize the devilish spirit that lay behind the bobbles and bangles and lights of the theater. Caught one night luring a young stagehand into the Vltava, she was expelled from the whole of Europe, fleeing to the shadowed slums of Manhattan. No longer allowed near even the old Amato Opera, she sleeps her days away at the bottom of the East River dreaming of her lost voice, and her nights slinking through alleyways in search of young men to lure to their watery deaths.
Luna Liprari came from a Sicilian father and French mother, from whom she ran away when she turned 15 in 1925. She was to become the secret love of Hemingway and Anais Nin, living in a tiny room above a butcher shoppe in Paris. They helped her publish a book of her poems. When she grew up, she moved to Argentina and was said to be seen in Mexico, teaching poor women to dance for their husbands. She was a clairvoyant they said, always dreaming of explosions, always making men explode from the inside. Her lips brought rainfall to its knees, her hips were said to have been the inspiration for the holy design of Vesuvius. Years later, she was the first Pinup painted on the side of a World War II bomber plane, her black hair and long legs dropping like webbed-spiders into sleepy French streets and Japanese cities. She had predicted weapons, slapped Oppenheimer in the face, seduced (and poisoned) two-dozen Nazis, and finally became a Pinup girl and burlesque dancer, touring the world with the Poetry Brothel.
Fanny Firewater was born on a barren farm in western Montana to humble frontier parents. Fanny was left to her own devices as a child, while her parents worked the dry land and herded the cattle. Always capricious and easily bored, the red-headed rascal made her playground the brutal wilds and sulfuric fires of Yellowstone National Park, where she learned the ways of the wildlife.
Her fiery temperament and early-recognized tendency toward sexual deviance frightened her good, hard-working mother and father, as did her hair-neither of them had a single redheaded relative. By the time she was seven, Fanny;s proclivity for running naked on the prairie, with or without the company of wolves, had convinced them she;d been seeded by the devil. Terrified, they left her with a passing band of Lakota Sioux in the hopes that the heathens might understand her better, or sacrifice her to their pagan gods.
Fanny was given her Indian name of Firewater at the age of fifteen by the Oglala and was officially adopted as the daughter of the band;s heyoka. The sacred clown had recognized a kindred spirit in Firewater, whose rages and whims took her as fiercely as had his own before he;d been visited by the thunder spirits on his hanblecheyapi. The heyoka are protected by the fire spirits and can hold flaming coals in their bare hands; Fanny, being composed, as far as anyone could tell, of pure fire, was named accordingly, and with a nod to the wicked brew the white man had brought to the Sioux Nation years before. Firewater had developed a taste for it by the time she;d become a woman.
On the second day of her own vision quest, alone and exposed on the hillside, a piebald horse and rider approached. Thinking this was her vision come to find her, Firewater stood to greet the figure, naked as the day she was born. But this was no vision-this was Rotten Gut Jack, the Old West;s most notorious outlaw. He was on the run from local deputies after holding up yet another bank in a tiny outpost town just west of the Black Hills, and he was looking for shelter with the Oglala.
Entranced by the solitary and sensual figure of Firewater, Jack scooped her up on his horse and the two rode back to camp, where Firewater, delirious with hunger and thirst, set up her teepee with him. Firewater, true to her passionate nature, fell deeply and helplessly in love with the outlaw, and he responded in kind. The couple stayed with the tribe for but a few months in conjugal-and coital-bliss until the bourbon he;d brought as payment to the Indians for taking him in ran out. Jack went on the prowl again, looking for a sucker to rob at gunpoint with his fire-haired woman riding behind him.
The pair became infamous in frontier towns in what;s now South Dakota, holding up banks, saloons, post offices... hell, anything with a cash register. Fanny thrived on the danger and adrenaline... and the bourbon. But their spree could not last forever, and when Johnny Law shot Jack off their sturdy piebald mare, Fanny streaked off into the wilds and began a new life as a prostitute, her spirit maimed but not broken. She;s been hiding in brothels ever since, drifting from town to town, quenching her spirit and her woes with firewater, writing sad poems, reading her dog-eared copies of Wuthering Heights and Grimm;s Faerie Tales, and, of course, fucking the pain of her broken but still beating heart ever so slowly away.
Jack Chance is a verifiable louge lizard. You may remember him from such vaudeville powerhouses as the Palace Theater and the original Orpheum Circuit in New York City. Martin Beck considered him "a friendly liability." Historians have asserted that Jack Chance taught Sol Horok everything he knew about show business, but the details of their association have remained subject to incredible speculation. Jack Chance has a bullet lodged in his left shoulder. Only the Professor knows how it got there, but she'll never tell. They married in Berlin in 1926.
Echo Rose was born in the last boxcar of a westbound train. Orphaned at thirteen, she became the fascination of a tiger trainer named Mabel Stark. Dedicated to the art, Echo insisted on living with the Bengal tigers as the circus traveled. Nearly digressing into a feral state, Echo became the youngest woman to wrestle a tiger in front of an audience. The scars on her body, she claims, are not injuries from the big cats.
Straight from the rafters and in through the out-door, scratching clean this crystal grit, Calico Cowl is the unclean incarnate, a true dust bunny. Born into the lot of a chimney sweep and later, when her womanly figure made her literally more fit for flinging sud-buckets and swashing streets than rappelling ash she became the Madame's Scullery maid. A dog's body and then some. She soon began repelling sidelong glances from sideways gents too surly or seedy to attain invitation into the brothel down below. Having envied the lavish life of the literati within the Madame's brothel since she could first smear the soot from her lash lines, it was only a matter of misfortune when, at the last minute, the Madame's sloppiest escort slipped out, as sometimes happens in brothels, on a mid-mopped morning and ran face-first into a fire trowel...twelve times. Calico consoled the distraught Madame and offered to fill the slot, as it were. Perhaps all that glitters is not gold, but all that's been blackened is certainly incendiary.