Saturday, December 8, 2012

Poems about Dance: Playlist for December 7, 2012

My Papa’s Waltz

By Theodore Roethke 1908–1963  

The whiskey on your breath  
could make a small boy dizzy;  
But I hung on like death:  
Such waltzing was not easy.  

We romped until the pans  
Slid from the kitchen shelf;  
My mother’s countenance  
Could not unfrown itself. 

The hand that held my wrist  
Was battered on one knuckle; 
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head  
With a palm caked hard by dirt,  
Then waltzed me off to bed  
Still clinging to your shirt.     

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Mark O’Connor:  Appalachia Waltz


Belly Dancer
By Diane Wakoski b. 1937 

Can these movements which move themselves
be the substance of my attraction?
Where does this thin green silk come from that covers my body?  
Surely any woman wearing such fabrics
would move her body just to feel them touching every part of her. 


Yet most of the women frown, or look away, or laugh stiffly. 
They are afraid of these materials and these movements  
in some way.

The psychologists would say they are afraid of themselves, somehow.
Perhaps awakening too much desire—
that their men could never satisfy?

So they keep themselves laced and buttoned and made up
in hopes that the framework will keep them stiff enough not to feel
the whole register.
In hopes that they will not have to experience that unquenchable  
desire for rhythm and contact.  

If a snake glided across this floor
most of them would faint or shrink away.
Yet that movement could be their own.
That smooth movement frightens them—
awakening ancestors and relatives to the tips of the arms and toes. 

So my bare feet
and my thin green silks
my bells and finger cymbals
offend them—frighten their old-young bodies.  
While the men simper and leer—
glad for the vicarious experience and exercise.

They do not realize how I scorn them;  
or how I dance for their frightened,  
unawakened, sweet

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Istanbul: Awakening and Turkish Dance by Sergio Assad (not available)


My Last Dance

By Julia Ward Howe 1819–1910


The shell of objects inwardly consumed
Will stand, till some convulsive wind awakes;
Such sense hath Fire to waste the heart of things,
Nature, such love to hold the form she makes. 


Thus, wasted joys will show their early bloom,
Yet crumble at the breath of a caress;
The golden fruitage hides the scathèd bough,
Snatch it, thou scatterest wide its emptiness. 


For pleasure bidden, I went forth last night
To where, thick hung, the festal torches gleamed;
Here were the flowers, the music, as of old,
Almost the very olden time it seemed. 

For one with cheek unfaded, (though he brings
My buried brothers to me, in his look,)
Said, Will you dance?' At the accustomed words
I gave my hand, the old position took.  

Sound, gladsome measure! at whose bidding once
I felt the flush of pleasure to my brow,
While my soul shook the burthen of the flesh,
And in its young pride said, Lie lightly thou!' 

Then, like a gallant swimmer, flinging
My breast against the golden waves of sound,
I rode the madd'ning tumult of the dance,
Mocking fatigue, that never could be found. 

Chide not,—it was not vanity, nor sense,
(The brutish scorn such vaporous delight,)
But Nature, cadencing her joy of strength
To the harmonious limits of her right. 

She gave her impulse to the dancing Hours,
To winds that sweep, to stars that noiseless turn;
She marked the measure rapid hearts must keep
Devised each pace that glancing feet should learn. 

And sure, that prodigal o'erflow of life,
Unvow'd as yet to family or state,
Sweet sounds, white garments, flowery coronals
Make holy, in the pageant of our fate.  

Sound, measure! but to stir my heart no more—
For, as I moved to join the dizzy race,
My youth fell from me; all its blooms were gone,
And others showed them, smiling, in my face. 


Faintly I met the shock of circling forms
Linked each to other, Fashion's galley-slaves,
Dream-wondering, like an unaccustomed ghost
That starts, surprised, to stumble over graves.  


For graves were 'neath my feet, whose placid masks
Smiled out upon my folly mournfully,
While all the host of the departed said,
Tread lightly—thou art ashes, even as we.'

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Gerald Finzi: Romance (from Five Bagatelles)


The Chorus
By Rachel Hadas b. 1948

A Greek I worked for once would always say  

that tragedies which still appall and thrill  

happen daily on a village scale.

Except that he put it the other way:  

dark doings in the sleepiest small town  

loom dire and histrionic as a play.  

Cosmic? Perhaps. Unprecedented? Not  

to the old women sitting in the sun,  

the old men planted in cafes till noon  

or midnight taking in the human scene,  

connoisseurs of past-passing-and-to-come.  

These watchers locate in their repertory  

mythic fragments of some kindred story

and draw them dripping out of memory’s well.  

Incest and adultery; exile

and murder; divine punishment; disgrace:  

the trick is to locate the right-sized piece  

of the vast puzzle-patterned tapestry

from which one ripped-out patch makes tragedy. 


This highly skilled and patient process—find

a larger context, match and patch and mend—

is what the chorus in Greek tragedy  

has always done. And to this very day  

spectators comb the tangles of a tale,  

compare, remember, comment—not ideal,  

but middle-aged or older, and alert.  

Beyond the hero’s rashness or the hurt  

heart of the heroine, they’ve reached the age  

when only stars still lust for center stage.  

The chorus, at a point midway between  

the limelight and the audience, is seen  

and unseen. Lady chaperones at balls

once sat on brittle chairs against the walls.  

“My dancing days are over,” they’d both sigh  

and smile. Or take the case of poetry.

Mine used to play the heroine—me me me—

but lately, having had its fill of “I,”

tries to discern, despite its vision’s flaws,  

a shape. A piece of myth. A pattern. Laws.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Erik Satie: Sarabande No. 3


Victims of the Latest Dance Craze
By Cornelius Eady b. 1954


The streamers choking the main arteries

Of downtown.

The brass band led by a child

From the home for the handicapped.  

The old men

Showing their hair (what’s left of it),  

The buttons of their shirts Popping in time

To the salsa flooding out

Of their portable headphones, 


And mothers letting their babies  

Be held by strangers.

And the bus drivers

Taping over their fare boxes  

And willing to give directions. 

Is there any reason to mention  

All the drinks are on the house?  

Thick, adolescent boys

Dismantle their BB guns.

Here is the world (what’s left of it),  

In brilliant motion,

The oil slick at the curb

Danced into a thousand

Splintered steps.

The bag ladies toss off their


To reveal wings.  


“This dance you do,” drawls the cop,  

“What do you call it?”

We call it scalding the air.

We call it dying with your

Shoes on. 


And across the street  

The bodies of tramps  


In a sober language.  


And across the street

Shy young girls step behind  

Their nameless boyfriends,  

Twirling their skirts.  


And under an archway

A delivery boy discovers

His body has learned to speak,  

And what does this street look like  

If not a runway,

A polished wood floor?  


From the air,

Insects drawn by the sweat  

Alight, when possible,

On the blur

Of torsos.

It is the ride

Of their tiny lives.

The wind that burns their wings,  

The heaving, oblivious flesh,  

Mountains stuffed with panic,  

An ocean

That can’t make up its mind.  

They drop away

With the scorched taste

Of vertigo.  


And under a swinging light bulb

Some children  

Invent a game

With the shadow the bulb makes,

And the beat of their hearts.

They call it dust in the mouth.

They call it horse with no rider.

They call it school with empty books.  


In the next room

Their mother throws her dress away to chance.  

It drops to the floor

Like a brush sighs across a drum head,

And when she takes her lover,

What are they thinking of

If not a ballroom filled with mirrors,

A world where no one has the right

To stumble?  


In a parking lot

An old man says this:

“I am a ghost dance.

I remember the way my hair felt,  

Damp with sweat and wind.  


When the wind kisses the leaves, I am dancing.  

When the subway hits the third rail, I am dancing.  

When the barrel goes over Niagara Falls, I am dancing.

Music rings my bones like metal.  


O, Jazz has come from heaven,” he says,

And at the z he jumps, arcing his back like a heron’s neck,  

And stands suddenly revealed

As a balance demon,

A home for

Stetson hats.  


We have all caught the itch:

The neon artist

Wiring up his legs,  

The tourist couple  

Recording the twist on their

Instamatic camera,  

And in a factory,

A janitor asks his broom

For a waltz,

And he grasps it like a woman

He’d have to live another

Life to meet,

And he spins around the dust bin

And machines and thinks:

Is everybody happy?

And he spins out the side door,

Avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk,

Grinning as if he’d just received

The deepest kiss in the world.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Duke Ellington: Harlem

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