Oct 4, 2011

Photograph of Hilma Burt’s Mirrored Ballroom, 1907

Written by Amanda Auchter

Read by Matthew Nienow

Famed musician Jelly Roll Morton got his start playing the piano in the ballroom of a brothel in Storyville, New Orleans’ Red Light District.

Eight women practice the music
of their bodies: white dresses

raised to show ankles, a suggestion

of pale calves, stockings. Behind them,
the mirrored wall repeats their gardenia-

blossomed hair, the way they lean
their hips into the piano player,

touch him with their floral-sweat

scent. He is young, background,
an ear, a coat, a few fingers floating

above the keys. The mirror too high

to hold anything but an idea of dark
hair, eyebrows, forehead. Each sound

he names, the sharps and flats, each
a woman dancing, a woman

turning toward the camera, her voice

a scale repeating itself into the flash-
bright walls, the gesture of his fingers

lifted before the first sound comes out.