Freezer Theater. 1981

By Laura Bernstein-Machlay

On Cass, I think. Maybe 2nd

beside a boarded-up liquor store.

Underage us nuzzling each

a bottle of fizzy alcoholic something,

brown bags nestled like garlands at our chests.


Suburban kids gone to the city, the city we say.

Come to test spit and bluster

among punks squashed

into the out-of-commission meat freezer,

to punch holes life-sized


in the air — Marlboros and pot

and clove rising sweet as sugar. Fishnets

carving checker boards into my thighs,

pulling tight in the crotch as I hunker

on the floor with a nameless boy


but this comes later, long

after Larissa completes her magnificent croak

into the microphone, after

the band has abandoned guitars

to party in the alley. Larissa, Catholic schoolgirl


skirt shortened to handkerchief so everyone sees

her skinny ass swathed in pink.

Larissa of broomstick legs

and crabapple knees, Larissa resplendent,

roaring on speed, her dance half pogo, half stomp kick


keeping the double-time beat better

than the drummer, her arms blurred

beneath the single sweating stage light.

Angel she is, dry as winter, rice paper insect furious

in her dance and I am so hot


with longing, thick and damp as ink

among thumping gnashing Mohawked boys,

the band reaching the climax of Clear Vision

and arms come undone, return me

to sour carbonation on my tongue, Larissa still


scoring her silhouette into the smoke,

her buzz crescendoing with the final crush-notes

when she topples backwards — all of us pressed so close

everyone feels her hit, feels the bob of her

against upraised palms


until she disappears towards the back

where I spend the rest of the night thirsty

on my knees, searching for her shadow

across this strange geography of crumpled flyers

and cigarettes flattened underfoot,


the small lakes of silence.


Laura Bernstein-Machlay is an instructor of literature and creative writing at The College for Creative Studies in Detroit, MI, where she also lives. Her essays and poetry have been published in numerous journals including The Michigan Quarterly Review, The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Georgia Review, and others.