The World Before
Free Form Poem
I married young before I knew the world, before I knew how to
hide my nakedness, my innocence and before I stopped accepting
My husband was a small man while his childhood buddy, Gregg,
was a snagged tooth whopper of a brute.
Gregg’s wife, Birdy Manhoe, I mean Monroe told me that we were
going to 42nd Street to see a movie or show.
So I dressed in my best clothes while my husband drove our
eight-passenger seat van uptown on a cold Saturday night.
Circling the blocks near 45th and 7th Avenue, he found a
space in front of a theater.
Looking out the frozen, car window at the marquee, I refused
to get out.
Seeing flashing neon with three XXX’s, my anger erupted with,
As I shook my head with arms folded across my thin jacket, I
adamantly announced,”I’m not going in there.”
Then the husband and his friends took over.
At first cajoling, then chiding, demanding and insulted and
finally telling me that I could freeze because they were taking the keys with them.
After about fifteen minutes of shivering bitterness, I got out
and met them inside the lobby.
Painted black walls, winding and narrow corridors led me into
a medium sized amphitheater.
The lights were dimmed but I could tell that it was filled with men
of all sorts.
Hasidim with black head caps and golden locks dangling against
their worn, Polish styled overcoats, pasty Russians, ochre kofi
wearing Arabs, men in silk suits, lean Africans, tiny Mexicans,
Chinese and every sort of leering European, some wearing
I saw only one woman in the room, Birdy besides my coerced self.
As I took my seat between my husband and Birdy, I noticed a small
There was something on the floor like a dingy mat or throw rug.
I couldn’t be sure as the lights on the stage were very low.
I was busy berating and jabbing at my husband and didn’t notice
the light brightening.
A man walked onto the stage from behind a curtain with a towel
wrapped around his waist and nothing else.
He stood over the covering and dropped the towel onto the floor.
I can only stare shocked, my lower lip hanging open like a melting
Then a fair skinned woman entered wearing a thin bathrobe.
Both were tall and in their early thirties and physically handsome.
As she tossed her robe onto the mattress, my hands flew up and over
my closing eyes.
My hands seemed to stay covering my eyes for hours,
I wanted to get out of there in the worst way but I felt trapped
between Birdie, the husband, the cold outside, the men sitting
between me and the exit.
Not knowing what to do or how to do it, I sat there paralyzed in
the slick, dirty seat.
Even the air smelled rank and stale.
Fearing, shamed and embarrassed at the situation that I was
in I thought that if I stood up to leave a myriad of cruel,
accusing eyes would focus in on me instead of the show.
I rehearsed what the husband and the Monroes would say in my
mind, “You’re so uptight.”
“A real square!”
My mind reeled with imagined finger pointing and wagging
If I could have fainted, I would have but the husband kept
interrupting my thoughts by trying to pry my fingers from
off my face.
I got so tired of fighting him that I dropped my hands and sat
for a few seconds with just my eyes closed.
When I opened my eyes the woman was on her back and he was
humping with his backside angled so that his Mandingo was visible
to all as it thrust in and out.
Changing position, as on cue he twisted her leg over her shoulder
pressing her cropped hair flat against the mattress.
Her face, placid and serene turned towards the audience and me.
Staring directly at me, confused and confounded me and I felt
Instinctively, I look down towards my feet and the seat in front.
Trying to will myself to blank her searching eyes out of my mind,
I thought,”There had to be anywhere from one hundred to two hundred
people watching so why don’t you stare down one of them, or Birdie?
She’d probably love it, so give your looks to her.
I’m not the one.
Give one of them the eye, not me!”
After several minutes of looking down at the darkness.
“What?” I asked in my mind and in responses to her eyeballing me.
“What do you want, heifer?”
“What could you possibly have to say with Mandingo humping and
screwing you in this place and in every way, but right?”
In my mind I sent her some acid from my vault of bitterness.
My anger was overwhelming and felt like I could kill husband,
Monroe’s, all the leering men, Mandingo and the staring hoe.
So I pushed it all into one space, my face and sent it all to her.
But when I looked again into her brown eyes there was nothing that
I knew, could identify or reflect off of.
Then a sudden word came to me and stopped my bickering mind.
It was there in the air, a familiar word from my days before him,
before the troublesome, evil times came and before the world
stopped making sense.
It was as if I had moved to another place, another time and
I was different there, in that realm.
Just the thought of that word sent me somewhere.
It was the world I knew before the hardness had sealed me in,
before the wounds grew scabs and before my universe grew small
I actually sat up, did a double take and squinting to get a real
good look at the woman, I almost spoke aloud asking,
“What did you say?”
“What did you call me?”
Again the word came like a bold, bolt of electric charges,
“Sister!” and that was what I heard.
The name, “Sister” stopped me like the call from an old friend,
or waiting for a lover’s arrival or like the rest one feels after
depositing a needed check into your bank account.
My angry defenses dropped when I heard that name that only my
father used for me.
He’d say, ” Ok, Sister, ok!” when I fussed at him.
Sometimes asking, “Sister, would you make me some of those butter
or “Sister, stop working so hard. Give God a chance to do something!
You can’t do it all!”
Puzzled I thought, “What the hell is this? This must be some kind of
psychic screw with with me show!”
So I turned to look at the husband. No change.
I turned to look at Birdie, nothing at all going on in that brain.
Both still greedy for this fool’s illusion.
Turning back to the woman, her eyes following my every movement,
in my seat on the third row, I touched my brow with a nervous
hand while trying to figure out what brought on the memory of
I decided that it didn’t matter, just the mention of my nickname
and my father’s love was enough.
I had known love but somehow I had been chasing a shadow of the
I think that realization was what stopped and stilled me.
I saw then that it was useless trying to get others to value me if
How lonely it had been these past fifteen years of chasing the wind
and the approval of others?
So, I slumped back into my seat and thought my own thoughts as
the couple on stage shifted their performance to other positions.
Sometime time after, he stopped, relaxed his back, uncoupled from
her, stood up and exited without his towel.
She rolled over, grabbed her robe, tied a knot, stood with her back
to the audience and strolled off as well.
We gathered our things, went to the van, droved back home, while
Teddy Pendergrass and the Blue Notes grunted out,
“Looks Like Another Love TKO!”
When we all arrived back at our apartment complex, I thanked the
Monroe’s for the show to their stunned amazement.
I went into my apartment, collected the husbands things into a bundle
and throw them in front of the Monroe’s door, where he had gone.
Then, I yelled a final goodbye to him on his journey somewhere
without me,chained and locked my door while ignoring the noise.
more by DEBRA BISHOP
photograph by Nicolai Bernsten