Marie and Phillip: a double sestina | The New Engagement

Marie and Phillip: a double sestina

By Raymond Luczak

The nondescript cafe on Bleecker Street,
long before the days of gay liberation and wild sex,
was where the heavyset Marie stood behind
her counter, eying yet another struggling
poet coming through the door. He’s broke,
she thought. Maybe he’s starving for food.

Anyway, Phillip was the first one there
that morning. Thin and scraggly with a stubble,
he and his dungarees stank from so much drink
off the Bowery. But in his grungy pocket,
a very clean copy of Dylan Thomas’s poems
awaited. Marie ordered him to sit down

for he looked like he needed some food.
You’ve been living on the street,
haven’t you?” He nodded. “You broke?”
He thought, I’m lonely, I want love and sex,
not the piers, I’m tired of struggling
Her hand rested on his shoulder from behind.

“Look at me!” Phillip still stared down,
his ears pink with embarrassment. “There.
Good. You owe me money. Well, you can read poems
tonight, but you’ve got to shave your stubble
and keep your hands out of your pockets.
And I don’t want to smell any more drink

on you.” Marie led him behind
her cafe, past garbage cans packed with food
and flies, to her place. She struggled
with her weight upstairs, above Bleecker Street.
“Here’s the tub, and I’ll be back.” Sex—
or the want of it—had made his heart quite broke.

It was much easier to soap up the smell of drink.
The tub was large and warm; he settled down
for a quick nap. Marie then searched his pockets
for clues, but finding none, she stood there.
His eyes were closed with suds on his stubble,
but he was a surprisingly pleasant poem.

When he awoke, evening had already broken,
casting darkness everywhere, from behind
taller buildings. He thought of sex
in his nakedness, and thought of the streets
where he’d found hungry men. He took food
from Marie’s Frigidaire, and then struggled

to find his way in the dark. “Poems?”
He jolted at Marie’s voice. “Drink
some water now—you’ve lost your stubble!—
you’ll be next to read.” He stepped down
to the packed cafe. “We have right here
a very new voice ...” He reached in his pocket,

but his book was gone. “Damn!” He’d struggled
to buy that book, and then he got broke ...
Meanwhile more people came in from the street,
clapping wildly as he sauntered up to beside
Marie. “I don’t have anything on me, but ... food ...”
He paused. “Swell. I’ll make up a poem about sex.”

The crowd buzzed. “Got a pencil in your pocket?”
A woman gave him hers, and on a pad he wrote a poem
about being lonely with no one to love, right there
with lights glaring. “Your sweet bliss I would drink ...”
He began, and the poem brought the house down.
“More! More!” Their response made him stumble:

was he that good? “What do you want?” “More sex
poems!” The crowd guffawed. “I’ve struggled
enough with that. How about if I write about food
since I’m hungry?” He scribbled lines: being broke
and starving. “Here goes ...” They followed behind
the emotion in his voice cracking from the streets.

 “I remember rye whiskey / dripping on my stubble ...”
Done, he put his hands in his pockets,
unsure how to act next. He looked down
as the crowd clapped furiously. “Your poems
were wonderful!” “You wanna share a drink
with us?” Marie shrugged her shoulders. “... Sit here!”

So in there, his life passed. Bleecker Street
soon changed, Marie helping men stumble in from sex
in backrooms and bathhouses. Phillip soon took to drink,
struggling with those prophylactics from their pockets,
and died anyway. Marie stared at his sheaf of final poems
beyond her food on the table and at last broke down.

Raymond Luczak is the author and editor of 22 books, including Flannelwood (Red Hen Press) and Lovejets: Queer Male Poets on 200 Years of Walt Whitman (Squares & Rebels). A ten-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and online at

Read more from Digital Issue No. 16

Join Us!

Mercy, ingenuity, nuance, complex truths, guts and honor still matter! Join us in proclaiming so by purchasing, or giving the gift of, The New Engagement in print.

Order Today!

Follow Us

"You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive."
~ James Baldwin

Help us spread the ethos of compassion and understanding by joining our social media networks and sharing generously!

Contests & Prizes

Flash Fiction Contest
On May 1st, we announced the winners of our Flash Fiction Contest: Thomas Garcia (1st), Rick Krizman (2nd), and Rios de la Luz (3rd). Read more.

The James Baldwin Literature Prize
It is with great pleasure that we announce the winner of The James Baldwin Literature Prize of $1,000 to Hafsa Musa. Read more.

The New Engagement

The New Engagement endeavors a novel approach to discovering, introducing, and showcasing writers, artists, and filmmakers, by providing them digital and print platforms, while encouraging and supporting their social-consciousness.