My feet are still tingling from the show, and my ass is sore from shaking it at the afters.
Of Poets + Punks is a column that explores the relationship between music, emotion, poetry and fragmented memory.
I am determined to talk my way in. My only weapons are a rolled cigarette I bummed off a stranger, a week’s worth of emails proving a publicist had ghosted me, and the kind of entitled wile that one develops after years of freelancing in the New York media hellscape. Outside of La Cigale, a venue in Butte-Montmartre, all the skinny alt kids are smoking and watching the clouds turn pink as I arrive just in time to miss Jimmy Whoo’s set.
The girl with the list hears me out and says to come back in 15 minutes. She writes something down that feels like my name.
“There’s always a no-show,” she says, winking at me.
* * *
Audacious poets are my teachers: Arthur Rimbaud, who wrote and fucked until he disappeared; Dante Alighieri, who railed against the corruption of the Church and was exiled; Audre Lorde, who read at Amerika Haus in Berlin wearing a dashiki and headwrap; Miguel James, whose work combines sex, love, drugs, rock n’ roll, Yemaya, Caracas in the 70s, abolition, and that yearning between countries that I have tried all my life to understand.
“‘As to large animals, I am not afraid of them. I have my claws.’ And, as naīve as ever, she showed her four thorns.”
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
I grab your hand and we run to the lower part of Kings Theatre under the red light. We’ve been kissing in the back all night. Your lips smell like sweat and the bits of cologne on my neck. The guard looks the other way at just the right moment and we get pretty close, sneaking into two conveniently empty seats. The pair next to us leaves after a bit, and we soon replace them with our friends during “Rest My Chemistry,” a song I would play on-loop years ago when Interpol was the soundtrack of my nights.
* * *
The sky is pink and streaks of dark blue are appearing. I wait fifteen minutes in the smoking area, accompanied by another bummed cigarette from a disinterested Parisian twink. I’m lucky I can speak Spanish and figure out the rest from there, or I couldn’t get away with much here. God knows I’ll still try. As I walk back in, the press girl shakes her head.
“Fifteen minutes after the show starts.” She pops her gum and taps her pen on the table.
I run off, inhale a falafel, and sweat as the pink-gray-blue sky starts to give way to darkness. I text my best friend, telling her I’m on the list for another show nearby. I ponder if I should just head to the assured second location and catch the whole show, upset because Muddy Monk doesn’t tour the U.S. She sets me straight real quick.
“Bitch! You are in Paris…”
* * *
Cement is poured on the sacred stone that leads to the Parthenon. The sacred trees in the Amazon are burning. Green turns ash gray from lack of care. The flamingos have flown away. French cops charge 50 euros you don’t have for not carrying your ticket and then laugh in your face. Eric Adams is raising your rent after a pandemic, is defunding education, and is actively augmenting the police budget. The audacity of money and empire to destroy what has always been here and those trying to survive within its borders. The audacity of not standing for it, fighting quietly or loudly, with your body or your mind. The destructive force of the God of war will be met always by the spear of the Goddess of war strategy.
“I haven’t written a single word, a verse, a stanza that isn’t against the police.”
My fears of arriving too late are abated as soon as I hear Lido Pimienta in the middle of “Resisto y Ya”. The room is sweaty as hell, and I feel extremely comforted hearing so much Spanish. There is a bird of paradise on stage and flowers glinting on the altar next to the mic. All of us are crammed into a packed room swaying to the drummer in something reminiscent of perreo. Lido speaks to the crowd between songs, and it’s extremely sobering to know I’m not the only one away in a fabulous location with a foot in our dim reality.
“A moment for silence for every baby we have lost into a sock, or a hand or a mouth,” she riffs, a dark-humoured reference to the recent leak of the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade overturning. “If any children have died in your mouth, you’re a mass murderer! Raise your hand if you’re a mass murderer!”
I’m delighted to see a lot of the room raise their hands (myself included), even if I find myself in the unfortunate position of being behind the only two assholes with phones out.
Lido is exuberant—and why the hell not? She’s excellent, belting and gallivanting onstage, a natural primadonna, the first woman of color to compose for the New York City ballet, a proud Afro-Indigenous Colombian woman making a stuffy Parisian crowd feel like home.
The sweat dripping down my chest tells me she’s summoned the summer this long spring is slowly becoming. At the end, the shifting crowd lands me away from the phone recorders in a more present pocket of people actually dancing. Somebody takes out a large fan which I greedily and readily gulp air from, and it feels like divine justice.
* * *
A few hours before the flight to Berlin, I have a drink with a group of Latinx expats in Paris I connected with over Instagram (which, on occasion, can deliver). They’re all poets who go to neoperreo parties—my people. We laugh for hours until it’s too late to continue the illusion that I don’t have to leave the country.
Drunk, in the taxi back to the house where I’m crashing near Gare De l’Est, I trust the driver immediately when he puts on Don Omar’s “Dale Don Dale.” I have a flashback to being in the car with my cousin in Caracas, the first time I heard reggaeton. The lyrics were filthy as the beat, and I was in love with it.
The streetlights clog the Seine’s reflection.
As the song plays on, I realize all these years I misheard “yo soy su gato” as “yo soy sudaco.” There’s something about constantly having to affirm yourself that seeps into everything you do, everything you hear. The stars keep shining, the earth keeps turning, people who look like me or don’t look like me will keep getting on planes or boats or trains or rafts or walk searching for a place to rest their head.
* * *
The sexy boy who doesn’t blink no matter how prolonged our eye contact is puts a large brick of frozen speed in the oven like he’s making ginger snaps. After this, we (quickly) trade faggot literature recs and he tells me about his Bushwick past. For ten years, his neighbor was Genesis P-Orridge of Psychic TV.
“I’m pretty sure she hated me,” he says as he hovers over me, friends dancing around us and snorting powders off metal trays. “I would always see her with her cane and her dog walking around scowling. It was amazing.”
I tell him I was blasting “Paris” by Psychic TV the day before when I took my last walk on the Seine at night. He still doesn’t blink.
We sing him happy birthday at midnight as Gemini season begins. We promptly head to a rave nearby. When I leave at sunrise, the Berliners call me responsible.
* * *
I’m coming back home a bit past 4:30 A.M., as I tend to do. I always have, no matter how far I live. These days I’m on a hill uptown where the hurricanes and floods can’t catch me. When you’re from Florida and grew up with shutters and seasons of storms, you always think of things like this.
My feet are still tingling from the show, and my ass is sore from shaking it at the afters. I decide, with no cars and no sounds but my footsteps, to walk in the middle of the street as I run up the incline.
I remember what a good friend of mine from Miami said once as we took a late night walk through the suburb where he lived. There were no cars, so we were walking in the middle of the street as I am now, admiring the symmetry: “When I do this, I feel like I own the street.”
It’s something I’ve never forgotten about, not so much because of the owning but because of that security of walking with your chest out in a place where you usually couldn’t, knowing that you’ll live.
* * *
By the time I arrive at the concert, “Mylenium” starts playing after a pause. There is cheering and chattering en français. Guillerme Dietrich stands above the crowd, high notes gently piercing drones as they are on his records, French indie rock Jesus post-resuscitation, a siren tied to the mast and singing to a wine dark sea.
“Muddy! Muddy! Muddy! Muddy!”
Blue neon clouds sway behind him, interspersed with scenes from film noir. When he plays “Baby” and the lighters come out, someone behind me says in Spanish “hace tiempo que no veo eso.” Me neither. We’re both breathless.
As I sway to the piano rendition of an already slow, romantic song, I think I see someone I used to love in front of me, a few more rows into the crowd. When he turns to the right and I see the shadow of his nose, I recognize he’s just another too-tall French boy with curly brown hair. Something in me feels defeated but comforted by the fact I can invoke the past like that.
“Si l’on ride” ends the set, a song about voyages to get me thinking about the long one I’m taking tomorrow. When I leave La Cigale, the pink and gray clouds have long-become stars. I get in a cab to the next show, still reeling.
E.R. Pulgar is a Venezuelan American poet, translator, editor and journalist based in New York City. Their writing has appeared in i-D, Rolling Stone, Playboy and elsewhere. Find them at the back of the bar reading poems under a disco ball.