let’s not go back
to unmarked bars
dimly lit worlds where
couples slow-dance
to jukebox music

pool sharks
stand inside the circle
of a single lamp
hold the table
against hopefuls
who line up
quarters —
dibs on a turn
to rack and break

at the bar
regulars sit
and sip
exchange glances
a hug here
a wave there
flirt with bartenders
scurrying past
to keep glasses filled

new arrivals
shed public skins
adjust to the darkness
that enfolds
the women-only tableau
breathe fully
for the first time
that day that week —
maybe ever

until flashing lights
announce police
outside the door
to arrest or protect —
always the question