Stephen S. Mills
In Life We Dance at a Gay Bar Named After a Dead First Lady



And they play “Jolene” by Dolly 

and we sing at the top of our lungs 

as the boys all move in and out of doors 

to and from the dance floor 

to and from the water that is so close by

here on the edge of the island 

and you say: Can you imagine writing a song about a bank teller

you were jealous of and having it survive this long?  

and I laugh asking if you’ve forgotten I’m a writer

and no matter what any writer tells you

that is always our goal: survival 

and popping up in odd places

like a bar named after Jackie O in Greece

where her face is blown up on the side of the stairwell:

young and fresh Jackie 

a little blurry 

all before fame and tragedy 

which makes me think of other dead first ladies

and how people rewrite the stories of dead white women

always giving them extra room

like when Hillary Clinton praised

Nancy Reagan for her work fighting AIDS

and all the gays gasped

how easily the pieces are rearranged

Don’t speak ill of the dead, they say

Fuck that, I say

but Jackie was different

brave and beautiful 

with a keen eye for fashion

which makes her an easy gay icon 

like her insistence on continuing to wear 

that bloody pink Chanel suit

that changed America 

changed our access to information

but that picture isn’t here in this bar

where we dance miles from home

trying to forget 

the tragedies of America 

of our moment

of our soon-to-be history

and I think of the mother I saw recently  

in Washington D.C. taking her little boy 

around the First Ladies exhibit

which is mostly dishes and dresses

and how she stopped in front 

of Mamie Eisenhower’s dress

turned to her son and said:

The dress is prettier than the woman.

She wasn’t very attractive, was she?

and I remember how he looked up 

at Mamie’s photograph 

and asked: But was she nice? 

and I wanted to hug this boy

right in front of the dresses

and the dishes

and his awful mother 

but all I did was stand there 

and listen as she answered:

I don’t know. I didn’t know her.



Found In Volume 49, No. 05
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Stephen S. Mills
About the Author

Stephen S. Mills is the author of the Lambda Award-winning book He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices and A History of the Unmarried, both from Sibling Rivalry Press. He earned his MFA from Florida State University. His work has appeared in The Antioch Review, PANK, The New York Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review, Knockout, The Rumpus, and others. He is also the winner of the 2008 Gival Press Oscar Wilde Poetry Award and the 2014 Christopher Hewitt Award for Fiction. His third poetry collection Not Everything Thrown Starts a Revolution is now available from Sibling Rivalry Press. He lives in New York City with his partner and two schnauzers. Website: