Kazim Ali
Marie's Crisis

We stumbled through the strafing night to any harbor we thought safe

and we found one on some corner in the West Village called Marie’s                      Crisis

and in it scores of men huddled around a grand piano and sang songs

together. At some point, a woman who looks like Helen Terry,

the big back up singer from Culture Club emerges from the kitchen

to sing a number for the boys.


The crowd fell silent and she started belting it out and immediately

I wanted to know wait what is the Crisis? And immediately after why

is a song called a “number?” I know Pythagoras believed that music

resonated between planets and that the notes of the scale could be

calculated, that those notes themselves were not even singular

but had a dominant tone with seventeen other harmonic tones underneath.


Or am I making all this up? Why do you care?

Why haven’t you taken your pants off yet?

Marie was singing Janis Joplin and I imagined that I could actually feel

the porosity of the table under my fingers. There’s a cute skinny blond

at the bar. He’s wearing a short-sleeved plaid shirt which I think

I can get on board with but ironed jeans with boat shoes, not so much.


Still I’m trying to figure out exactly what to say to him but my field is

physics not chemistry. I open with “I wrote my dissertation

on the agitation that occurs in world-sheets during a red shift event.”

Not my strongest effort. He responds with, “In Indian dance, the face

is actually an instrument of the body and so its expressions

are part of the choreography.”


Marie looks like she’s about to burst out laughing. I know the look,

it’s called “show-tune” face. Look ridiculously happy while belting out

whatever song at hand at the top of your lungs. No one cares, she’s                       singing Sinatra.

I met a kid in Brooklyn once who said he was Frank’s son: he grew up

with his mom in suburban Jersey and Frank never acknowledged him

but used to come around and have dinner with them every once in a                     while.


It was the night my friend Ava taught me how to take tequila shots

and I had had seven and ended the night chatting up Danny

in between his stints dancing on the bar.

I found I didn’t really have anything to say to him except

that I believed him, that I thought Frank really was his father,

that he looked just like him.


As soon as I’d said it “These Boots Are Made for Walking”

came on the radio and I thought it pretty likely that was a sign

but I didn’t say anything and I don’t know what Danny was thinking

because he didn’t say anything either. Marie is singing a bluesy,

folksy version of “I Saw the Sign” and it makes me remember

my friend Araki who used to be my lover and then only my friend


but maybe isn’t even that anymore because I haven’t heard from him

in eight months and I have no idea what he is doing, because

all he ever posts on Facebook are links to news stories about public                      health.

Marie’s voice is scratchy and smoky and whiskey-soaked.

It’s not even what you’d call pretty or good but she is singing

for everything she’s worth. The bar is cute but small and a little shabby,


and the blond wants to know if I’ll sing a duet with him

when Marie is done and that makes me think either I better

marry him or make a run for it while I’ve still got some lead time.

I can’t sing but I have developed an equation that can calculate exactly

how long it is going to take for you to take off your pants.

Don’t say physics doesn’t have any practical applications.


Then someone tells me that’s not even Marie, it’s Maggie the night                      manager.

It’s been a week since that club in Florida got shot up & my parents 

haven’t called. Maggie is singing the Boy George part  of “Church of the Poison Mind” and I’m three sheets to the wind anyhow so I’m going to climb up on top of that piano and do the Helen Terry part. Maggie’s voice is straining and it’s not even

her crisis. She’s the biggest star in the room, girl needs back-up.





Found In Volume 46, No. 02
Read Issue
  • ali
Kazim Ali
About the Author

Kazim Ali's books include poetry, essay, fiction, translation, and cross-genre forms. His recent books are The Voice of Sheila Chandra (poetry), Northern Light: Power, Land, and the Memory of Water (nonfiction), The Citadel of Whispers (YA Fiction), a translation of Ananda Devi's When the Night Agrees to Speak to Me, and as editor, Shreela Ray: On the Life and Work of an American Master. He is a professor at the University of California, San Diego, where he chairs the Department of Literature.