by Stephanie Kaylor

it’s the first summer in nearly ten years

            I do not have to spend nearly every night


                        alone, as in,

            with the fathers, with the doctors,

            with the husbands

                        who do not know

                        my name, alone, as in


does not exist

            except checking out checking in

                        alone, as in,

even the hotel maids have left

            to their second jobs

            or their jobs of home

                        I do not know

            do not ask

                        only wink right back

when I take another stack of towels from their carts

            I leave a tip

before I try to leave it all behind

            as much as I ever could

                        & I’m in love

I fell in love

            as much as I ever could

with a poet

            because I knew I could never be one

though here I am,

capable of filling a single statement

with two lies

                        as if to render some negation

lie atop well-oiled lie

            smashing into some slippery gesture

that could one day labor into birthing

                       some truth

            it’s true

He was a poet

            it’s true

I did not feel


did not feel alone

            when there were only two nights

he introduced me

            to acquaintances, other poets

                        in passing

did not complain

did not hesitate

            those two nights

when they asked if I am a poet

and I said no

            not because I have never felt

            startled by the small bird

                        rustling through dead leaves


by how death is always amplified

            by the living

            by those who bear witness

                        by what we can or cannot do

I too have written my wonder

            into fragments

I too have kept my griefs

            in order, the traumas in tercets, the loves

                        in couplets

or I have tried to

            have shared them with the world


have read of wonders

            I will never know and I know

I know too little

            of the lineages

            of their meters

                        know too little

                        of their prized lilies

                        or their bread loaves

            these things that sustain them

or, the things they labor to make

            I know that I have not worked

                        toward it

even when I have worked toward the poem of it

            do not want to claim what isn’t mine

because I know what it means

            to see your work devalued

like the novelist who is always told

            you know, I’m working on a novel myself

or the poet who years before had told me

            that being a poet is about more

                        than just sex

I walked out his door

walked off the campus

            didn’t go back

didn’t take another class

you have to work for it

            and I walked away

I accept this

            do not look behind me

                        always look behind me

            always contradict myself

                        unsure of where to end the poem

as in: I do not write a poem

            only fragments

                        never tailored, never polished

            the work of it

                        the work where I’ve not once clocked in

but I read & I read the poems by those who did

            the powerful,

            the necessary, the oh,

            this poem, the oh

                        how I weep

I read the poem in which a woman is called

            a whore, whore as metaphor, whore as vehicle

driving her away from the rotting roadside flesh

            of having lived as it

            it as us, us as it

I read an Ivy League write-up of the frozen bird

            of its distance

            ceding narrative to metaphor

            the praise that lies coldly

                        and sterilely therein

I read the poet who wrote of the trauma:

            and that is when/ I almost/ became//

                        a prostitute

            or maybe I recall it incorrectly

maybe she wrote it out correctly

            wrote sex worker

            wrote it even if it sacrificed the harmony of her syntax

                        these sacrifices that she makes

maybe she knows the lingo

            knows it all

because for a moment she felt the proximity

            and she wants you to pity her

            and she knows how hard it is

like the poet who wrote

            don’t you think I understand

                        what struggle is/ you don’t

understand// what struggle is

after the night

            the night a singularity like the moon

                        cliched like the moon

she writes, after the night/ she had to whore herself/

            while on holiday// in Europe

and I would write that I read these poems

            on my phone while in the Sunset Inn

                        Parkside Motel in between

            shifts in between

            —I still don’t know

if I’m supposed to say it’s been a busy day

            how it would disgust them

                        make more pungent the need for housekeeping

                        to bleach the pages of the bed

I still don’t know if I’m supposed to say

            it’s been a slow day

            how it would disgust them

                        how they’d see me as unwanted,

                        desperate, even when I am

                                    like Blanche DuBois

            turning down the light in the Flamingo Inn

and I still don’t know

            how I remember my names at check in

                        remember my others

            when I answer the door

            when I’m in the room with a view

                        of a parking lot, when I do not bother

                        looking for the moon

            know everything it would tell me

                        don’t want to know the things it would not

when I would read these poems

            by these writers

            by these would-have-beens

            by these once-weres

by those whose covers are adorned with medallions

            not this trial size Lysol

            the streaks I seat myself upon

                        so the men can pretend

                        or I can pretend

            they do not see what others have left behind

            where I would read these poems

but the truth is I don’t read a word in these places

            I do not read a word

                        I keep that self

                        in a lockbox

            like the envelopes

                        of men’s smugly dead faces

            the envelopes

you’re supposed to count before the session

            but I never do

                        do not want to see

                        when a man tries to short me by ten dollars

            tell myself if it comes up short

                        it’s a clerical error on my part

                        a part of me I leave behind

            one part or another I alone can blame

                        beat them in their vapid game

and even when it happens

            I can afford more now

            can afford the four star hotel

            can afford a few new books

—this is privilege

            to afford to read the tragedy

            of a woman who once felt akin to me

            was almost seen as me

                        spent a few nights as me

                        nights of oysters

                        nights the bank accounts were not shut down

                                    the police did not harass

nights the sting wasn’t in the news

            the only sting

                                    was that of the volta they made themselves

                                    while the staff made their coffee at Yaddo

                                    poured their wine on their tour

and maybe you thought

            that this would be a love poem

and maybe I thought it would be too

            I thought I could leave work behind

                        in my poems, in my life

I thought love

            would knock me out

                        and for a moment it did

            I saw myself as an old woman growing kale

                        growing away

            from the work of sex the sex

            of work

                        as if that’s how it ever works out

            as if you can leave when you want to leave

the way he left, the way he told me

            that I have never wanted to face the consequences

            of being a whore

as if I don’t face the consequences even in my poems

            can’t get out

though maybe every poem

            is nonetheless a love poem

but every poem is a work poem too

            even when we do not know whose hands

                        built the window

            who tends to the garden

            who is whoring in the motel

                        that you could have gone to

                        but did not

            who is bleaching its sheets

                        of your absence

waiting for everyone else to leave, to clock out

            waiting to live the love poem

            that’s not a work poem

                        a poem I still believe

is only fantasy, but of fantasies

            I have read worse, fantasies

                        in which I too clock out

am clocking out

Stephanie Kaylor is the author of ASK A SEX WORKER! (CLASH Books, 2024.) They are a recipient of fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and UC Santa Barbara, where they are currently completing their PhD in Feminist Studies with a focus on US sex workers’ histories and self-narratives. Stephanie’s writing can be found or is forthcoming in journals including Salamander and Split Lip Magazine. They live in Brooklyn.