We were introduced to Maggie Estep‘s work more than ten years ago, when Nerve.com, where we were both editors at the time, published her fiction. Here are the opening lines to her short story Devil in Her Eye, published on Nerve in 2002:
She wasn’t the kind of girl to make a bishop kick in a stained glass window, but she got to me all the same. Her name was Sylvia. Dirty blonde. Five-foot-four, 122 pounds, thighs just shy of ample. She was quiet. Seldom looked at you straight on, but once she did, you never forgot it. Which is what happened. She looked at me. Right into me.
And I melted. I’m not the kind of guy to go around melting, mind you. I’m pushing thirty-five. I’ve been locked up a few times, and when I wasn’t Inside, I worked on the back side of racetracks. Mucking horse shit and what have you.
I’m not a melter. But Sylvia got me.
Her writing sticks with you, and this stuck with us. (You can read the story in full here.) Neither of us ever met her, but then last week, Em went to a reading at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, NY — it turned out Maggie Estep lived just one town north of us, and had contributed to an anthology about writers leaving New York called Goodbye to All That (hey, we did that, too!). She was charming, hilarious, brilliant, vibrant, and sweet, and Em departed the reading with secret plans to friend-stalk her. And then two days later, she had a heart attack, and two days after that she was dead. At fifty.
Estep was best known as a slam poetry performer — she helped bring the genre into the mainstream, performing on MTV, HBO, and PBS… and how often does a poet whose work is “characterized by gritty honesty, black humor and a post-punk brand of feminism” (NY Times) get to do that? One of her most famous poems is the blisteringly sarcastic “Happy”, which she performed on the HBO show “Russell Simmons’s Def Poetry Jam” (watch her perform it in the video above, it’ll make you happy, no sarcasm):
To hell with sticking my head in the oven
I’m ridiculously, vengefully happy
I’m ripped apart by sunshine
I’m cutting off all my limbs
I’m doing circus tricks with forks
But the poem that we want to share in full today is the one that Beavis and Butthead poked fun at Estep for (not that she cared). The poem is called “Hey Baby,” and the topic is pretty appropriate for this site:
So I’m walking down the street
minding my own business
when this guy starts with me
he’s suckin’ his lips goin’
and I get a little tense and nervous
but I keep walking
but the guy, he’s dogging my every move
hey Miss, he says,
Don’t miss this!
And he grabs his crotch and sneers ear to ear
so finally, I turn around
Hey Buddy, I say
I’m feelin’ kinda tense, Buddy
I got a fuckin’ song in my heart
so come on,
I got a huge bucket of non-dairy creamer
and some time to kill
so let’s do it
we’ll make some foul-smelling artifical milk
and drink gallons and gallons and gallons of it
Get our bladders exceedingly full then
sit on the toilet together and let
the water run in the shower
and torture ourselves by not letting ourselves urinate
as the water rushes loudly
into the bathrub, okay?
We’ll do it together
writhe in utter agony
Just you and me
and I’ll even spring for some of that blue shit
for the toilet bowl, all right?
I mean, that’s my idea of a good time
so how bout it, you wanna?
The guy backs up a bit
Whatsa matter, Baby?
You got somethin’ against men?, he says
No, I say
I don’t have anything against men
Just stupid men
R.I.P., Maggie Estep., you were one of the good ones.