“[T]he most beautiful combination of English sounds was cellar-door; no association of ideas here to help out! sensuous impression merely! the cellar-door is purely American.”
–Cyrus Lauron Hooper, 1903
No, they did not win the pageant:
cellar door won, despite a poor showing
in the talent competition –
sitting still with snow falling.
How is that a talent? entitlement whispered.
How is it even beauty? carped diversity.
Only later did cellar door creak open
to admit the losers as they straggled
down the boardwalk (midnight, midwinter,
Atlantic City): vulnerable, entitlement,
transgender, diversity—one by one
they found cellar door, teetered in,
and kicked off their stilettoes.
Turns out cellar door displayed
a surprising depth, an earthy
laugh, a candle in the darkness.
In the end, even evidence-based
and science-based found their way,
carrying fetus. Then cellar door closed,
so when the pageant Judge came
a-calling he found a cold knob,
a lock with no key, not a trace
of the underground bacchanal
that was—just then—picking up steam.
“You are all beautiful!”
slurred cellar door mock-
seriously, popping a fifth
Sam Adams. Everyone roared.
A conga line formed. No one
gave a damn anymore.
Angela Sorby is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently The Sleeve Waves from University of Wisconsin Press. Her work has won the Brittingham Prize, a Midwest Book Award, the Felix Pollak Prize, and others. She teaches at Marquette University.
Inspiration: I love how words lead their own lives; they are always just a little bit out of control.