April 11, 2023

Week Two: AJ Huffman, Morouje Sherif, Charles Remmelkamp

Week Two: AJ Huffman, Morouje Sherif, Charles Remmelkamp

We’re so delighted to welcome A. J. Huffman and her poetry to Fictional Cafe. A.J. is a poet and freelance writer in Daytona Beach, Florida.  She has published 27 collections and chapbooks of poetryIn addition, she has published her work in numerous national and international literary journals.  She is currently the editor for Kind of a Hurricane Press literary journals.     

Two Boards Don’t Always Equal An X 
I wear his depression for hours.  Like a crown 
of duller thorns, it does not bleed me.  But breeds 
a bizarre dissension.  I understand the gray it is shading. 
Around my edges it appears.  Colder than his.  He shudders. 
Mistaking the chill for lore.  It is not your soul leaving your body
I sigh.  (It is my soul trying to breathe.)  You worry I am not 
strong/safe/alive enough to hold you.  You are wrong 
(Such a backwards remark.) in your terminology  
not your implementation.  We compress like this for hours. 
Thinking in time to the pulsing alarm.  It is too distant 
to hurry.  Too close to abhor.  Instead we just touch: 
forehead, cheek, chest.  (Palms are forbidden in this particular 
crucifixion.)  Waiting for our dreams to cross. 


Betting on Midnight 

to turn me back 

into a pumpkin, I prowl 

the remaining minutes like a vampire, 

devouring the magical silence 

of a moonless forest.  Princely 

blood stains my hands—permanent 

shadows easily lost in the mist. 

I am temporary 

princess in this welcome purgatory. 

First toll signals countdown . . . 

3 . . . 

2 . . .  

1 . . .  

I remember 

to forget 

to breathe. 


Negative Space 

after Linda Marcille’s Nights Flight Towards Dawn, 2011 

Raven leaps from branch, entwines with darkness, dives 

into universal envelope of ebony embrace, disappears 

completely from eyes searching for hint of feathers, 

glint of moonlit eye.  In its place, hovering above the bark, 

a breath of static sparks, shimmers in perfect reflection 

of the ghost bird it follows.  The strange polar shadow 

lingers, turns as if to laugh at any onlookers before raising 

its own phantom wings and evaporating into the echoing night. 


Sex on a Flower 

Two ladybugs match 

spots dance mirroring the motion 

of the petals.  Rising breathing 

rolling on the fluttering moonbeam. 

Magic melts 

merging with the memories of 

such a sensual scene. 


I Dream in Desperate 

attempt to escape my life.  I cling 

to any ephemerality, however impractical 

or improbable.  In my hands, talking 

mountains and beer- 

drinking fish become anchors, 

lifelines to sanity.  Behind closed lids, 

I am free 

to understand what it means to breathe. 

A big Welcome! to Morouje Sherif, who is publishing her charming, impressionistic poetry with us for the first time.

Milk Tea 

can’t recall which narrow boulevard but 

i remember the view from above— 

crystal water glistening in relief, a crisp jangle of waves 

curling into light foam, crashing and ebbing 

had it been a stray breeze in the night. 

we can reflect on the lavish Mediterranean blues, the richest sun 

that paints each follicle from piercing brunette 

to opulence—like a grandmother braiding hair 

with mist rising from quivering flesh. 

and I’ll reminisce on 

tireless sellers with handsewn orange beach towels and Egyptian cotton shirts 

seashell necklaces that can be wished upon, a thousand palm keys 

encrusted in vivid colour— 

and I’ll reminisce  

sitting on that seventh-storey veranda beside fragile 

balsamines, with arugula sandwiches, mauve plums & 

feta. make way for  

the evening sun, ablaze, spilling summer’s rosewater  

—making way for the carriages to  

Luxor and Hurghada. these white streetlights aglow  

lead us steady— 

like quarrelling mosquitos in the dusk.  

and I will reminisce 

on the patisserie beneath your childhood house 


know this was short-lived (consequence not choice) when  

you sat at that table with your language of orange pekoe 

so stay at ease when I recall that 

you sleep uneasy 

with the yellow light of a bedside lamp 

floral blankets etch brutal shapes into your spine, 

gifted by your sister (back when friends was an active term for  

those breathing above the water) 

—and let’s remember the framed picture of your late mother beside the lamp and 

the mug of ritual milk tea in your hands, an inanimate hug for your kidney stones. 

solemnly falling in the barren fridge, packets of Turkish coffee  

embody remnants of your happiness . . . but 

even though we can never replicate that moment in life, 

your presence is all I need. 


The Purple-Tinted Window 

& the peonies and gladiolas are

more seductive each fall. I choose

slips of peony roots three buds full

of colour that may prosper

years from today.

I dig shaggy gladiola corns    

plumped on slender stalks, next year’s

replacement for the exhausted stalks of

colour-trumpets to the sky:

purple (steeped in black), regal crimson,

slim Abyssinian, lavender

that cried out to tender orange;

bulbets cling, intent on avenues of their own.

Beauty’s nonchalant kindness still accepts

 the slow learning of my eyes &

a few days of October sun—

always an unexpected surprise.

I plant the evening slips; come and sort the corms

possessed by past and future blooms.

Even now I fear joy might never

be allowed back in my window

but resonance is a different eye that opens—

prospering its youthful permissions.

I can still see the calm in your eyes

white seashells washed in two different oceans

the balsam trickle in your veins

lead us through blonde grasses against autumn frost

here: in languid mouthfuls turning every

pocket and dropping tomorrows in vast fields

& in sun, on this softness, I resonate

some shy part of me is always

sitting here. No wisdom, no plan. Full

of palms, anguished Abyssinian—

no notion of who I’m singing to.

Morouje Sherif is an Egyptian-Canadian writer who adores apricots, verdancy, and temperate climates. Growing up in the Mediterranean, she has a vicarious thrill for feel-good compositions and the traverse of truth. Her work has appeared in the international Minds Shine Bright prize, published in the CONFIDENCE (2022) global anthology, The Poetry Society of UK, The Blue Marble Review, Reedsy Prompts, SOFTBLOW, and elsewhere. Asides from writing, she enjoys judging dubious architecture, the colour sage, and drinking herbal teas on the weekends.

Over the past five years, Charles Rammelkamp has become a perennial contributor of prose fiction and poetry, often weaving them together in tales about real people. We’re delighted to share his latest opus, in seven movements, about the lives of burlesque dancers.

Promises Made, Promises Kept 

“Always a mother but never a bride, that is my doleful admission. An actress at heart, I went wrong from the start by giving the groom an audition.”  - Gypsy Rose Lee, The G-String Murders 

I came a long way from Xenia, Ohio, 

where I was one of four sisters, 

on stage by the time I was four, 

dancing in vaudeville shows. 

When vaudeville died, we moved to burlesque – 

still dancing, but without any clothes. 

No longer Rosie Rowland, I called myself 

Roz Elle, Rose Zell, and other variations. 

We’d moved on to New York, 

dancing on Fourteenth Street for $3 a day, 

five shows daily, six on weekends. 

My specialty? Wearing only a coat of gold paint. 

Nils Granlund discovered me – 

the man credited with inventing the nightclub – 

paid me $60 a week to dance in gold paint 

at his Irving Place Burlesque. 

Clifford Whitley whisked me away to London 

to dance at the swanky Dorchester House, 

Rose Zell and “Les Girls” performing  

at midnight to packed audiences. 

That’s where I met the Baron, Jean Empain,  

who fell for me, love at first sight, 

smitten by my “Goldie ” act, 

the Baron fifteen years my senior – and rich. 

We traveled to Egypt, the Belgian Congo – 

safaris, hunting big game, decadent parties. 

We became engaged; I quit dancing for good. 

But the Baron had a problem. 

Having only had a daughter by his first wife, 

Mathilde Marie Hoffman, he said he’d marry me 

only if I gave him a son. When Wado was born 

in Budapest, November, 1937, Jean kept his promise.  


 The Further Adventures of the Rowland Sisters 

After Diane died in 1944, heart failure 

brought on by scarlet fever, only twenty-nine, 

Betty and I stayed especially close. 

She’d dance for decades to come, 

headlining at Minsky’s and elsewhere, 

a flaming redhead known as “the Ball of Fire.” 

Me, I called it quits at twenty, 

when I married the Baron. 

Betty often came to Europe,  

staying for weeks with us  

at the Château Bouffémont, 

our home thirty kilometers from Paris. 

When the Baron joined the war for France, 

he was locked up in a concentration camp, 

after an injury. The Nazis took over the Château. 

We were forced to flee to Vichy. 

Accused of collaborating with the Nazis, 

my husband fled to Spain after France’s liberation, 

but he was buried in France  

in his Belgian uniform, in 1946. 

After the Baron died,   

I remarried his cousin, Edouard Empain.  

During the worst of the war, 

my sisters implored me to come to America, 

but I couldn’t abandon my son Wado, 

a Belgian citizen, not allowed leave the country. 

In 1978, kidnappers plucked Wado from a Paris street, 

demanded 80 million francs for his release. 

Known as “Monsieur Nucléaire” Wado’d been granted  

the rights to build 16 new atomic power plants 

by the French government. 

The gang held him for sixty-three days,  

Chained in darkness, starved, beaten. 

In the end, they cut off part of his ring finger 

before they released him. 

What a life! What if I’d just stayed in Ohio? 


 Little Egypt 

Ashea Wabe claimed she was the original “Little Egypt,” 
but she just cashed in on her 1896 notoriety  
when she danced at the Seeley banquet in New York, 
a swank Fifth Avenue bachelor party 

for well-to-do aristocrats. 
The vice squad raided when they heard  
she was going to be nude. 

“In my all-together,” she’d boasted. 
After that, Oscar Hammerstein hired her 
to perform at the Olympia Theater as “Little Egypt.” 
But I was the real original “Little Egypt,” 
performing under the stage name of Fatima. 
I got my start at the Bird Cage Theater  
in Tombstone, Arizona; 

a large portrait of me with six bullet holes, 

one just above my belly-button, 

still hangs over the saloon. 

But I appeared at the famous “Street in Cairo” exhibition  
on the Midway at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, 
in a show called “The Algerian Dancers of Morocco.”  
I was the one who popularized the Hoochie Coochie shimmy. 
“Little Egypt” was my backstage nickname. 

because of my size: everybody called me “Little Egypt.” 

Others claimed the title, too, of course. 

Fatima Djemille was in the 1896 film 

Coochee Coochee Dance as “Little Egypt.” 

Lorraine Shalhoub, a five-foot Syrian 

from Brooklyn, used it, too, 

but Ashea was the one who got under my skin. 
I felt bad when her sister found Ashea dead 
in her West 37th Street apartment, 
a gas asphyxiation, in 1908, 
but me, I’d continue to dance as “Little Egypt” 

all across Europe;  
as late as the 1933 Century of Progress in Chicago, 
when I was already 62. 


 Ave atque vale 

She started dancing in San Francisco in 1961 

after winning an amateur strip contest 

at the North Beach nightclub, Moulin Rouge. 

She was just seventeen, you know what I mean. 

Birth name Angel Cecelia Helene Walker; 

her full stage name? Wait for it – 

“Satan’s Angel, the Devil’s Own Mistress,  

Queen of the Fire Tassels,” 

her signature act lighting her tassels aflame, 

then putting them out 

“by means of strenuous mammary rotation.” 

A dervish, she twirled  

five tassels at a time, two on the nipples, 

two on the buttocks, one on the navel, 

all of them licking flames. 

Hailed as a trailblazer by Dita Von Teese, 

Catherine D’Lish and Immodesty Blaize 

(“Satan’s Angel is over 60, still taking her clothes off,  

so I don’t see why I shouldn’t carry on  

for a long while yet,” Blaize enthused.), 

in the Sixties she played bass for The Hummingbirds, 

an all-girl topless cover band, 

performing nightly at Tipsy’s in North Beach; 

danced at the Palamino Club, the Silver Slipper, 

toured the world with her fire tassel twirling act. 

She’d retired in 1985 but resumed her act in 2002, 

inspiring a new generation of burlesque stars. 

When she died in Los Angeles, 2019, pneumonia, 

one admirer eulogized, 

“Satan’s Angel is like a burlesque Elvis.”  

She’d inspired a whole new generation. 

“This exuberant woman was over 50,  

presenting burlesque the way  

it had always been done before. 

She changed everything,” another admirer mourned. 

Hail and farewell, Satan’s Angel! 


 Was Bettie Page a Real Person? 

This is what it’s like to be a cult figure, I guess. 

Larger than life.  What becomes a legend most? 

Hefner called me “an iconic figure in pop culture, 

who influenced sexuality and fashion.” 

Whatever. I was “Miss January, 1955,” 

known as “Queen of the Pin-Ups.” 

It’s even on my gravestone. 

“Dark Angel,” another nickname for my bondage films, 

earned me a subpoena from Estes Kefauver’s  

subcommittee on juvenile delinquency!  

Born in Nashville, but we moved around a lot 

before we came back for good. 

My daddy spent a couple years in prison in Atlanta, 

car theft, but he started molesting me sexually  

when I was thirteen, back in Nashville. 

My mom was a hairdresser, where I got my love  

of makeup, hairstyles, and costumes. 

When I married Billy and he got drafted, 

we traveled all around when he was in the Army – 

San Francisco, Miami, Part-au-Prince. 

But we divorced in 1947 – I was twenty-four – 

and I moved to New York to become an actress, 

got into modeling for photographers instead. 

Irving Klaw’s BDSM themes made me famous – 

abduction, domination, spanking, slave-training pin-ups, 

Irving’s Teaserama with Lili St, Cyr and Tempest Storm.  

But maybe it was Bunny Yeager’s Bettie Page Confidential 

that really made me famous – nudes with a couple of cheetahs. 

But at the height of my fame, in 1957, 

I gave it all up, disappeared – 

hence the legend, I guess, the “mystery.” 

I’d found Jesus, given up my acting career 

for a higher purpose than  

my trademark bangs, heels and provocative poses. 

Not that I was ashamed of any of it.  

As I told The Los Angeles Times in 2006. 

I want to be remembered as a woman 

who changed the way people saw nudity 

in its natural form. 

But when all those people ask if I was “real”? 

What is “reality,” anyway?  

Maybe “Bettie Page” was never a real person. 

I was living on my Social Security checks, 

barely squeaking by, attacked my landlady; 

I’d suffered a nervous breakdown, 

found not guilty of assault by reason of insanity, 

tossed into a California mental institution. 

But I’d been born again, began 

studying the Bible, worked for Billy Graham. 


Dame Aflame 

The Godfather of Atlanta burlesque? 

That would be me, Torchy Taboo – aka, Eva Warren. 

I started out in the early 1990’s, 

winning a Bettie Page lookalike contest, 

and then boom! I win the 2014 Sassy Lassie 

at the 2014 Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas! 

A lifetime achievement recognition  

for pioneering the Atlanta burlesque revival. 

This means the motherfucking world to me! 

It was at TeaseORama 2001 that I developed my fire act, 

lighting my bra on fire! A handmade set  

of vinyl breast plates the secret. Genius! 

That was the big turning point in the revival. 

I called the act “The Flaming Heart.” 

Burlesque is alive and well here in the Bible Belt. 

Long live stripping down in Dixie! 

Me, I’m Blanche Dubois living a Mata Hari delusion. 


 The Day Burlesque Died 

I got into the business when I was fifteen, 
a cashier at Minsky’s Republic Theater on 42nd Street  
in the midst of the Great Depression. 
My break came when one of the girls failed to show up 
and I got to go onstage. 
By the time I hung it up, 
I was earning $2,500 a week, 
in the Forties and Fifties. 
Born Rosina Dapelle, I took the stage name Rose LaRose. 
My specialty? A “reverse strip,”  
appearing on stage with little on, 
then getting dressed in front of the audience. 
At 5’4” I was a petite little firecracker. 
Burlesque is so much more than stripping. 
It’s costumes, comedy, dancing and singing. 
I got out of touring in 1958, when my mother got sick, 
wanted to settle down. 
That’s when I got the Town Hall Theater in Toledo. 
I helped Gerri Paredes – aka, Alexandra the Great 48 – 
develop her act, mentored other girls, too. 
After the city razed Town Hall for an urban renewal project, 
I bought the Esquire on North Superior, 
a few blocks north of Adams Street, 
which prompted the Toledo council to ban burlesque. 
I fought it in Federal court, got an injunction. 
We’d already gone to adult movies, occasional live shows, 
but I figured my customers would protest 
 when I put in that second screen. 
But you know what? 
They just kept coming for the porn movies. 
That’s when I knew burlesque was dead. 
I just couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud. 

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore. His latest poetry collection, A Magician Among the Spirits, poems about Harry Houdini, is a 2022 Blue Light Press Poetry winner and has just been published. Another poetry collection entitled Transcendence has also just been published by BlazeVOX Books. A collection of flash fiction, Presto!, will be published in 2023 by Bamboo Dart Press. 

So ends Week 2. All of us at The Fictional Café hope you’re enjoying this wonderful poetry! Next Wednesday is Week 3, and three more poets, then more for Week 4! The poets would love to hear from you, so please send us your Comments below. Thank you!

#AJ Huffman#Charles Remmelkamp#Fictional Cafe Week 2#Morouje Sherif#National Poetry Month 2023
1 comment
  • Dana Yost says:

    I know who A.J. Huffman is. She has published several of my poems. Great to see her in here! Very nice poems.

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