Another one for the “Behind the Poems” books. See other posts in the series here.
“Speak Easy” was first published in Lady Lit Magazine, an online journal that is now deactivated.
We walk into pitch black edges with only silhouettes
of people and wine glasses and beer bottles on high
top tables. At the forefront of it all: a swirling flame of red
and black surrounded by an orange glow. The flamenco dancer.
Her hurried clogging against a weathered wooden stage echoes
and shouts like a raging thunder against the howling wind
of the impassioned, chanting vocals known as
la música de los gitanos.
The guitar strings are plucked faster and faster like an oncoming downpour
of rain, frenetic clapping and deep rumblings of a drum quickly following
following the flamenco’s swirling frame and frenzied jumping until
Or so it seems.
There’s a soft tapping and snapping now, like whispers through the trees
as she appears to float mere inches above the stage, only the tips
of her toes transcending the space and tap tap tapping while the lithe
fingers above go softly snap snap snapping.
Not a single word is spoken. Not a single breath released.
And then the snapping turns to clapping. She descends from her feat,
the tapping becomes a stomping and the eye of the storm has passed
as flurry after flurry of the twirling flamenco skirt brings on another
riotous gust followed by the howl of the gitano as he cries for lust
and lost love. It’s all a cacophonous symphony of tragedy and rage
and obsession, on and on it goes, the fire of music and chanting and
stomping and clapping until the final throe
and her arms swoop in a finishing arc to come to a stop above her head
and at her waist, a punctuation to his last anguished cry.
There is silence. And then there’s whispering in the audience
that turns to waves of awe and swells into bursts of excitement.
A standing ovation.
I went to Spain in 2015 with my parents and our trip started in Madrid. During our first few days there, we made friends with a local restaurant owner originally from Colombia. He asked us if we’d like to see a flamenco show, to which, of course, we said yes. We hopped in the taxi that took us to a restaurant that, upon our arrival, was totally empty.
We thought at first there must have been a mistake or perhaps we’d somehow been duped. But then others began to arrive and look around in confusion as well. That’s when one of the waiters came over and asked us if we were all here for the flamenco show. All of us, strangers to each other, nodded in unison. He smiled and led us over to what looked like a plain wall at first, but then slid open a hidden panel.
Behind the panel, sitting in a booth cut into the wall that seemed to go further back than it first appeared, a man greeted us and asked for our names for the tickets. Finding us all on the list, the wall gave way, revealing a doorway that led back into a dark room. My dad and I felt giddy as we said, “Oh wow, a speakeasy.” Thus, this poem was born.
The forbidden atmosphere and captivating performance entranced me. It felt like an unreal scene straight out of a movie. And the way the dancer moved in total sync with the singer’s wailing song created a heart-pounding moment. I had a sensation of being led to my roots, because yes, the reality is my bloodline also comes from the colonizing Spaniards. It’s hard to believe such a beautiful cultural heritage lives side by side with a horrific history of genocide and conquering. But that makes up my own history. The good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.