Sunday, January 21, 2018

Celestial Business

—Anonymous Photos
—Poems by Jeanine Stevens, Sacramento, CA


    In my other life, I might be a person
    instead of an animal.

    Kicked out of ballet class, she wanted
the hot house of life.

Born angular, a sense of movement, not afraid to use space—
    all space.

In the Afternoon of a Faun,
Balanchine could not take his eyes away.
  He loved
   ~the taste of her
    ~the sweat of her
     ~the dance of her
and ask, “Why can’t women be faun
to allure, seduce, enchant, fascinate?”

Too impatient to stand with other dancers
for polio immunizations,
Tanny spent years in Copenhagen’s iron lung.
Calm, stay calm. “Did I just touch
        St. Peter’s cape?”
Think of the night with small pink clouds.

Years later, somewhat healed, she wondered
    Why is it in art, once you have arrived
     you start to diminish—

and practiced acceptance, forgiveness.

Some asked, “Why Balanchine, why him?”
    Maybe he just got there first!

In life, the Pas de deux takes many forms.

        A Found poem, PBS 6/22/14
        Note: Her parents named her Tanaquil,
        after an Etruscan Queen who lived by omens.

(first pub. in Medusa’s Kitchen)


    From the film, Black Orpheus, 1959   

Dressed in white cotton,
sweet as blue starch,
she steps from the trolley—
Eurydice in new sandals.
Orphio’s guitar pulls
out a bossa nova, old samba
rhythms, feet thrumming,
trying to remember
the location of viper holes.
Revelers burst
from ancient frescos.
Jazz hipsters gyrate,
ribs squeeze and stretch
like concertinas.
Day collapses—
shops close early.
The man in black, a bone
for a face, skulks in alleyways,
hungry hounds drool and snap.
She flees to the station,
where snakes strike,
live cables sting
and hoist her to heavenly rafters.
After the cruel sunrise,
The Bureau of Missing Persons
gives Orphio permission
to place her song
among morning’s red stars.

(first pub. in Projector Magazine)


Engraving with pigment from Les Trois Freres Cave,
Upper Paleolithic, Artist Unknown

A retelling by a Romany gypsy.

I travel in my caravan, mend pots,                                
collect feathers, sell trinkets.                                         
At dusk, we play skin pipes—
wailing flamenco and klezmer tunes.
I mimic a torn scrap tacked
to my mirror: The Dancing Sorcerer.
Manganese scores deep etched fur,
pricked ears, flat antlers, perfect
human hands, his arched nose.
Long beard disappears
into the chest cavity.
Smelling like old pelts and spruce,
he scans newcomers—
knife-edged glare setting boundaries.
Flames activate extinct animals
endlessly prancing on cave walls.
I dance with him, stance identical,
knees locked, hips moving, feet
ringing, bones chanting my own
invisible passageway: fragmenting,
rejoining—a searing fluidity.
His male sex thrusts backward. I move
closer—my hands like his,
palms pressing air, holding time.
In the morning, I sketch his body
with a cold fire stick: antlers sloughing
skin, new growth glistening and white.

(first pub. in Artifact)

NIJINSKY’S AFTERNOON OF A FAUN                                    
                   Photo Montage                       
         Silent Film Archives, Circa 1915
           “Classic Arts Showcase.”

1. Costume

Admire my Egyptian eyes, lacquered hair
swirled in place, body taped
to reduce curves, like a character doll. 
Was it a dream feathering down my neck
or just thoughts, leaf points growing
from the green felt skullcap?

You only see my left side: plum velvet
shoulders, brown grosgrain ribbons
stream warmer than earth,
cover an aquamarine body,
more fish than fawn,
shimmering specter, sorcerer,
harlequin              —mine.

2. Choreography

Palms turn up like Krishna’s,
cupped hands wait to hold soft love.
See the Valentino grin, broad, luscious,
certain to draw attention?
Small hooves, professionally trained,
suspend, barely touch
future projections caught in bas-relief.

I move horizontally, an efficient machine.
Maybe you think me
a pull toy on wheels,
or small kiddy car locked in track.
Editing resembles a 5-horse powered motor,
limbs well oiled. Lubricant moistens
skin, sweat marks delicate fabric.

I scratch dust           
look for rubies, dislodge
small stones, release musk,
arch, heave, gyrate,
caress the earthen floor—               
not an extreme male legato, just a heart
grinding its way back to dreaming.
3. Nymphs
Forest hues move in panels,
a pull-through diorama: lime green at dawn,
purple as wild grapes at midday.

Yesterday, nymphs did not
notice me. Now,
they assume gauzy shapes,
curtains like webbed cauls
divide the hours.

I cannot find one raven curl,
or a single supple pomegranate.
Was that blanched laughter, dry cackle?
Someone mocking? Or my willow flute
grown dry as rustling oat grass?

I grow tired, can no longer feel applause,
or curtsy to receive rosy crowns.

Does anyone remember my profile—spliced,
sealed in still frames? Has anyone heard
my floorboards leap and release iron studded nails?

                           It’s just me—Vaslav

the cloistered somnambulate
my grand jeté
rising in small alcoves
through two world wars!

(first pub. in Projector Magazine)


Driving over the causeway, a movement
I recognize. A lone bird’s wing arcs
on plastered pavement, almost a salute,

large pose, expressive limb, the leading
edge, the under-wing, fringed by
velvety pineapple weed. The golden heads

bob, alert as waltzing flowers.
In ballet class, we practice our port de bras,
clean lines, exact, no elbows showing.

We are told, “Breathe with arms, let air
expand ribcage,” écarté—limbs thrown
apart, battements—heartbeats,

caught by a single bell. Time
quickly absorbs a broken chime
and fangs of wind may always tear

the shadow lark’s wing, but I learned
the higher the posture, the less likely to fall.
It isn’t the wound that’s important, but

a right position: a single act of grace,
the trailing edge, shared blueprints, the same
shoulders, scapulars, and upper wings.

(first pub. in the chapbook, The Keeping Room,
from Rattlesnake Press)

 Grand Jeté

Because the first flower was white.
Because they are ancient birds. Because
their arms pull comets from the sky.
Because dancing is celestial business.

Because they soar like Mesozoic birds,
above the black glass lake,
trust the buoyancy of air,
the obscure pirouette, and
tail feathers shouting the grand jeté.

Because they are uncertain if shoulders
will hold them in unexpected mist.
So they dance to Tchaikovsky
singing like swans toward the sky.

And some wear red—dance
the Merengue, releasing all rhythm.
It is not what the mother holds
back that frees the daughter.
The mystery of her body’s unknown
strength continues to excite.

Ignore the skilled: the skater
who performs three triples,
the artist who insists on widest borders
for their sketch. She can shout
like the audience, hold molten galaxies

between her limbs, then suddenly appear
at the Moulin Rouge, dance the Can-Can
perform a Ronde Jamb, and see patrons
all looking like Toulouse-Lautrec
clapping, stomping on tabletops.

(first pub. in Arabesque)

Today’s LittleNip:

Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf.

—Rabindranath Tagore


Many thanks to Jeanine Stevens for her dancing poetry today, inspired as she was by our Seed of the Week: Dancing. All of the poems Jeanine sent us this week have been previously published; this is fine with Medusa, and smart of Jeanine to keep her poems alive this way!

Please note that Lara Gularte will read in Placerville today at 1pm at Love Birds Coffee & Tea Co. Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about this and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.


 Dancing on the Edges of Time
—Celebrate Poetry!

Photos in this column can be enlarged by clicking on them once,
then click on the X in the top right corner to come back
to Medusa.