Painted Lady by Cynthia Livingstone

To Heidy and Charles, and to one beer keg and one cooking pot.

Written by Cynthia Livingstone
September 22, 2012

In memory of the Alaska Hotel, burned to the ground September 14th, 2012.


Painted Lady
She seized the moment.
Threw down a mystery.
Cigarette butt?
Molotov cocktail?
Stupidity or malovence?
A moment's inattention.

That is all she needed
Her grand exit
Her phoenix unleashed
A grand glorious blaze
That drew firetrucks and rubber-neckers
Cameras and I-phones and a Facebook frenzy
A prairie fire
In the midst of drought
A prairie fire in a city block

A witch's cauldron
Wreathed in smoke,
A witch's brew of spark and smoke
A witch's cauldron
To make them choke

Some choke on horror
Mouths agape
Some in shock
Or delight
A pyromaniac's wet dream
Some choke on gall
A lifetime disappearing
Into a relentless, invincible maw
Chewing up and spitting out years
Of things
Of people
Of memories, good, bad
Sequined with sparks
Happy Hour no more
Burning through and into the night
Stench of branding
Way, way, way past closing time.

No Titanic theatrics where the band played on
Though she lists towards the sidewalk
Magnificent bosom heaving

A fireman on ladder rising
Pissant human on pissant truck
Pissing away at Hades smile
Pissing on a barbed wire fence
Pissing away, pissing away
Pissed off.

Too ravaged
They watch.

Like old make-up
The paint cracks and peels
Mascara running down her cheeks
Baubles dropping from the roof
Collapsing on the barroom floor.
Ashes to ashes
Dust to dust.
Gypsy eyes flashing while pennants blaze.
Carelessness? Human malfeasance?
Or self-immolation?
The Painted Lady
Center stage once more
Summoning them to gaze upon her
Once more
As she once was
The biggest deal in town
Bosom white
Again heaving
Ruby lips
A plume of smoke
A good-bye kiss
Vaporizing tears and spittle
Crumpling hundreds of dusty dollar bills scrawled with names and dates
She cauterizes all
Broken bottles
Broken dreams
Broken teeth
Stilling the stealthy whisper: "Are you looking for something?"
Trinkets. Treasure. Trash.

In the saloon
She swirls her skirt
Smoke, ash and spark.
Lovely slim ankles
Dark piercing eyes
They gaze at her
Cameras and I-phones
Like a boy with a toy pistol
He squirts her with water
That she spurns with a wildcat's hiss
This is her territory now.

Once she dined on faces
Consuming bowls of borscht
Spooning ruby red velvet
Into body and soul
Potions for comraderie
Brought to them
From the old, old world.

Gypsy fiddle, gypsy flair.
Gypsy black and tangled hair.

Gypsy smoke
Curling air
Daring one, daring all
Who shall enter the gypsy's lair?


Heat is her shield,
Heat her sword.
Heat to blind.
Heat to bind.
Heat to choke.
Her will is hers, and hers alone.
Painted lady or Old Crone?
Skirts swirling
Sparks twirling.
Like the cyclone
Tiwist, rise, disappear, disperse.
Show's over.
All is charred.
Ashes and tears.

And the taste of ashes.

Where is the Gypsy Lady now?
Hiding in the velvet night.
Hiding in plain sight.
While on the mountain
The windmills flail
Slim white arms that rise and fall and rise again

The Gypsy Lady pays no mind.
Her fate embraced.
She rests her feet on the harvest moon
While all around her the Northern Lights
Fawn and swoon.
"Oh, what fools these mortals be, to think you could diminish me."

Contact Us

Charles & Heidy Kux-Kardos

Phone (250) 719-8111

P.O. Box 246 
Dawson Creek, BC
V1G 4G7

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