The opulent ladies’ room
Was daunting, a fussy rhapsody
In lace and polished brass.
Almost afraid to touch
The embroidered towelettes
I suddenly remembered college years long gone,
Those endless trips to Austin,
Late-night stops in one-horse towns.
Once, in one of them, I sought
The bathroom, found a peeling door.
Inside, a light bulb swayed
Like something out of Psycho.
Through its murky light I saw
A grimy toilet, seat up, flanking
A cracked urinal, the washstand buried
Beneath a palimpsest of scum.
By the crusted spigots
Was a bowl of shaving soap,
Its stiff brush waiting
For a beard or legs or underarms.
On the wall one dispenser
Offered cheap cologne; another, condoms.
Over the second was a sign: “For hygienic
Purposes only. Any other use against the law,”
Hypocrisy beneath an overlay
Of public interest, out of place
In the brawling Sixties,
Time of burning flags and bras
Vietnam and riots
Freedom rides and sit-ins,
Dissonance not so different
Children lost in the name
Of family values, millions
Left behind, women shrunk
To genital appliances, epoch of double-think
Born again with water-boarding canonized,
Land dark under a promise
Of clear skies, a nation gasping,
Beneath the yoke