I Felt All Flushed with Fever

–lyric from “Killing Me Softly with His Song” by 
Norman Gimbel, in collaboration with Lori Lieberman 


By the time I portrayed Dolly Parton in the fifth-grade variety show, I could ride a headstrong pony through a green pasture. I could find cherry tomatoes growing wild beside a weathered barn and pull them, whole and salty as the sun, straight to my mouth from the vine. I could sing Dotty West—raised on country sunshine—and Kitty Wells—it wasn’t God who made honky tonk angels—and might’ve passed for a country girl in the peasant blouse and prairie skirt my mother bought me at JCPenney. I wore them that day I stood on the hardwood stage in front of the whole school, kids in the bleachers, kids on the gym floor below me. Mrs. S., stage left, pushed play on the recorded track and gestured encouragement with vague hand signals and a scowl I assumed meant You are blowing this. She’d picked the song, and now over the scratchy speakers I heard my own voice quiver like the butterflies in Dolly’s hit. Love is like a butterfly / as soft and gentle as the sky. Not only was the song too soft and high for my voice, but who was I to sing when you kiss me? To pretend to be her, so flashy with sequins and womanhood? I was a sham. 


That post-pandemic night, I finally went to see a live band again,
one I knew would play the classics, and from the first stroke
of wire brush on drumhead I was out of my chair, ready to dance
away all the dragged-out lockdowns, the masked fever and despair,

but the crowd sat still, seeming to need another shot or two
before they could loosen up and groove—Lord, what were they
waiting for—but you were across the room in that silver jumpsuit,
your dark eyes holding mine, your lips a glitz of yes, and I

strutted over like I was Travolta staying alive, staying for the
duration, no heading home early for me, not ever again, and we
began to shimmy, to hell with everybody watching, and then
everybody was up and moving, jubilation rising like steam until

the band had to slow it down so we wouldn’t set the place on fire,
and their lead singer, the one dressed in feathers and pearls, started
into “Killing Me Softly,” a slightly ironic choice after all these
bleak years but oh, she was a ringer for Roberta herself in ‘73,

smooth and sultry, and suddenly there glimmered Kara in her red
flounce, Wheeler in his trademark vest, Bobbie in form fitting lace,
Gregory in a maroon velvet smoking jacket, and dozens of strangers,
too, all of us so tender and close enough to kiss, all of us

dressed to the nines, maybe even the tens, we looked so fine,
and we sounded even better—perfect harmony, perfect pitch,
every last one of us nailing those lyrics, singing clear and strong 
because it had been forever since we had.


  • Kory Wells is the author of two poetry collections, most recently Sugar Fix from Terrapin Books. Her writing has been featured on The Slowdown from American Public Media and appears in Christian Science Monitor, The Strategic Poet, SWWIM, TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics, and many other publications. A former poet laureate of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, she nurtures creative culture through local arts advocacy, storytelling, and the from-home mentorship program MTSU Write.

  • Images from Aditya L-1, India's first space-based mission to study the solar system's biggest object, named after Surya, the Hindu god of the Sun, who is also known as Aditya. L1 stands for Lagrange point 1, a spot where the gravitational forces of two large objects, such as the Sun and the Earth, cancel each other out, allowing a spacecraft to "hover." The pictures of the Sun's surface were captured by the Solar Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope.