New Orleans, LA – June 24, 1973
Sunday nights in the French Quarter
beer flowed free – well, almost free –
$1 for all-you-can-drink drafts.
I’d come to drink, flirt, sing
along with the piano-man playing
Broadway tunes. That night a first date.
Took me two buses from out in the ’burbs
to stand at the door of the Upstairs Lounge,
press the buzzer and wait for the OK,
then thirteen steps up to the second floor.
No “nelly drama” that Sunday – fancy costumed
drag cabaret. Nope, just me and my guy
hanging with our friends. Even Pastor Bill
from church was there, host of the party,
last event of Gay Pride weekend.
Buddy served up the beer. Music loud
and swinging. Front door buzzer sounded,
insistent, relentless. Attendant opened and
firebomb hit the floor, staircase updraft
did the rest. Whole place turned raging
hot. Red velvet wallpaper, white lace curtains
exploded into flame, men screamed,
stumbled toward barred windows open
to the street; others crumpled to the floor.
I squeezed through the bars.
My body on fire. Weeks in the hospital,
then home to the house where I was born.
My memories, haunted: Pastor Bill,
big and burly, trapped in the window
—half in, half out.
I loved this man who sang songs
and hymns and prayed over us.
I still hear his howl when flames
crawled his body, fused one hand
to the outside sill.