Faylita Hicks reads “Featuring Tonight at the Street Hustler’s Circus: The Girls”
Don Share: This is the Poetry magazine podcast for the week of November 26th, 2018. I’m Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine.
Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh, consulting editor for the magazine.
Lindsay Garbutt: And I’m Lindsay Garbutt, associate editor for the magazine. On the Poetry magazine podcast, we listen to a poem or two in the current issue.
Don Share: Faylita Hicks lives in Texas and is working on her first book. The poem, “Featuring Tonight at the Street Hustler’s Circus: The Girls” is in the November issue of the magazine.
Lindsay Garbutt: Hicks told us that she wrote the poem after going to a carnival, where she encountered several women who had been sold into sex trafficking. In her poem, Hicks likens sex trafficking to cancer.
Faylita Hicks: It’s something that kind of just… is underneath the skin of the city. And I don’t know how big the problem has to get before we get involved. Before we try to do something about it.
Don Share: Hicks also told us that she didn’t want the poem to only focus on the harshness and sadness of sex trafficking.
Faylita Hicks: I think that that’s important, that you remember that these are people who want joy and they want light, and they’re gonna find it any way that they can.
Lindsay Garbutt: Here is the poem.
Faylita Hicks: Featuring Tonight at the Street Hustler’s Circus: The Girls
The streets ram themselves into coochies:
sodden women with bamboo for backs
& taffy for sex. Both sweet & sour.
Star-cloaked women who don’t bend
or break. Who catch Hondas right in they grills.
Women with electric-pink hoofs that drag
in the slow churn of the intersection. Clog
the sidewalks. Metastasize along the corridor
of Main Street. They have come to settle
around the bend of this corner. Pose
under carnival-like car lights at just nine-thirty.
Note: It ain’t even prime time & they got all that
good-good going on sale. The gully accordion,
their arms sway in & out of tempo with traffic.
They stagger in & out of the busted frame of Pop’s
Grocery neon-blue open sign. Their smoke-thin throats
glitter when they slip into the ringing center of the motel lobby.
Strangled light bubbles & soaps along their jaws like melted crayons
through the Plexiglas. A rush of shade strains
against their nylon-clamped thighs, rides up their hips
& dangles around their soft bellies as they saunter on in.
They be harvested sounds for the replay later this evening.
When they got to make it do what it do. When they got to
cash they own checks. Trace dollar signs into ceilings — signals
cut with their zirconia-encrusted toes.
Giggle & grunt at all the right moments
for the Best in Show.
Christina Pugh: This poem doesn’t just treat the harshness and sadness of sex trafficking. When she discussed, “these are people, they want joy, they want light,” I think this poem is really expressing that. The descriptions are so astonishing and there are really interesting echos of almost mythological energy going on.
Faylita Hicks: Star-cloaked women who don’t bend / or break. Who catch Hondas right in they grills. / Women with electric-pink hoofs that drag // in the slow churn of the intersection.
Christina Pugh: They are almost like centaurs, the way that that’s expressed. There is, you know, a kind of wonderful glamor with the “zirconia-encrusted toes” ...
Faylita Hicks: sodden women with bamboo for backs / & taffy for sex. Both sweet & sour.
Christina Pugh: Yet, there seems to be a pleasure that the speaker of the poem is taking in these descriptions as well, especially with the gustatory “taffy,” “sweet & sour.” Of course we don’t know. The sweet and sour could be coming from someone—a man, for example, or someone else—who is looking at these women. So there may be a kind of ventriloquism going on with some of these descriptions. But either way, I think it’s just so … so true, what the poet said about this poem. That we may expect something very down and sad, and there is that, of course. But part of the achievement of the poem is to really bring the incredible life into these women.
Don Share: Well, it really does get at something just underneath the skin of the city. Which is such a brilliant metaphor all by itself, that that should be in a poem too. Because there is ... the skin of the city is human skin. And the energy and creative, sort of, ornamentation of the body, and the movement and the kinetic landscape that these figures create because they have to. It’s a creation of necessity. But it’s, like, creating an astounding, glittering, as you say, almost mythological world out of something that people want to put away and hide as being dark and in the shadows. What you see here is that these are people who are coming out of the shadows to do the things that they must do. And when you see them, you can’t forget them. And there’s like a real redemptive energy in that too.
Lindsay Garbutt: That poem is very much, sort of, enacting this sort of spectacle, of the girls and their scene. And so I think it’s really beautifully described and evocatively described, as you were saying, Christina, in just the word choices.
Faylita Hicks: Their smoke-thin throats / glitter when they slip into the ringing center of the motel lobby.
Lindsay Garbutt: You kind of picture their throats as smoke, but you also get the sort of scent of smoke. And “the ringing center of the motel lobby” echoes the sort of circus ring that the title sets up for the poem.
Faylita Hicks: Pose / under carnival-like car lights at just nine-thirty. / Note: It ain’t even prime time & they got all that // good-good going on sale. / The gully accordion, / their arms sway in & out of tempo with traffic.
Lindsay Garbutt: It creates a whole sensory environment for the reader to say, “oh, there is this music of, sort of, the street and the gully accordion.” And then it feels like a dance, a sort of performance that they are all putting on. And they are all together. It’s this community of girls; they’re never individually singled out in the poem, too, and so it feels sort of like the Moulin Rouge or a can-can show, that they’re all sort of doing this as an ensemble. That gives them a sort of community in a difficult place.
Christina Pugh: And I like the way, you know, that the terrible necessity of it is really encapsulated in the verb “metastasize.” You know, that also seems to be a really important moment in the poem that manages to do that work of, you know, perhaps cancer under the skin, in one verb, rather than, say, extending or prolonging that metaphor. So I felt like that was really terrific, too, to bring in into this kind of terrific diction, this medical term that we all know. And in a way glamorize it, but also give us another perspective on the glamor that we’re seeing. That beneath the skin there is infection, cancer, growing as well.
Don Share: You can read “Featuring Tonight at the Street Hustler’s Circus: The Girls” by Faylita Hicks in the November 2018 issue of Poetry magazine or online at poetrymagazine.org.
Lindsay Garbutt: We’ll have another episode for you next week, or you can get all November episodes all at once in the full-length podcast on Soundcloud.
Christina Pugh: Let us know what you thought of this program. Email us at email@example.com, and please link to the podcast on social media.
Don Share: The Poetry magazine podcast is recorded by Ed Herrmann and produced by Curtis Fox and Catherine Fenollosa.
Lindsay Garbutt: The theme music for this program comes from the Claudia Quintet. I’m Lindsay Garbutt.
Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh.
Don Share: And I’m Don Share. Thanks for listening.
The editors discuss Faylita Hicks’s poem “Featuring Tonight at the Street Hustler’s Circus: The Girls” from the November 2018 issue of Poetry.