Homecoming Gospel

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I have a mother, who sleeps and gardens

and reads the newspaper, a mother who eats

and swims and reads novellas, a mother who

listens and worries and cares. But sometimes

I feel like a motherless child, only I can’t say so

without punching a hole in her lungs—and the hole

is not even clean, and when she shows it to a doctor,

flesh hanging off flesh, he is not even sure what

to count. Love v. gore. When I was six my mother

told me to eat my lettuce because lettuce, she

said, makes you beautiful. Or maybe lettuce

is beautiful, is what she said, but lettuce doesn’t

make you tough and she never told me what

did. But now I am a long way from child, and we

both know dad’s not getting better, and I want to ask

is it wrong to wrap your arms around a corpse? To

hold the hand of a dead man? A fatherless adult

is not a thing, in the classical sense, but here’s where

hip hop comes in, and Cassandra, who told me once

that everyone has a weird dad and that doesn’t make

you special, and after twenty years I learned

that it isn’t lettuce heads that are beautiful, but hearts

of palm, and when father used to hold our hearts

in his palms. Only now I’m a long way from

home and I’m not sure I can go much further

and I’m not saying to put the tea on yet, but soon.

Poemage to Trisha Brown

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Now that our Trisha Brown adventure has wrapped up, I look at my own tumultuous period dancing her work—from being injured, to healing, to re-injury, to some healing again—and notice how my physicality has colored my experience. Below are two poems, the first from a more personal perspective as a dancer under full capacity, and the second inspired by and retracing the imagery I found dancing Newark.

 

Before the Rainmaker

 

 

Back to this, where I’m not

girl or robot but only another

 

casualty in Bolivia’s water

war. They cut off my foot

 

again, and a small price

to pay—they laughed. For

 

what? For the chance

to balance a ten-foot pole

 

on my head in a dance, or

not a dance, but a game—

 

hold on, we called, hold

on, we echoed—now move.

 

 ——————————————————————————————————————–

 

 

Tales beneath the Newark Surf

 

 

The car makes a three-point-turn while the guard

raises the flag—the tide rises high but we

 

toss a beach  ball to a seagull who catches

only the spraying ocean and the horseshoe crab

 

scuttling just ahead of his tail. Swordfish, table,

lazy Susan—what we become today, when

 

either a game of leapfrog or the strong wind

turning the sail threatens to capsize us, and either

 

way the storm spits us overboard, but we are

our own buoys, reeling into land, reviving our

 

salty lips with honey water before we fly a kite

that always tangles in its own tail. Put the kite

 

away now, Jimmy, the dog barks, staking out his

hole and chasing away his intruding tail. The dog

 

rolls into a slow-speed squirrel chase as if death

were no different than a sticks and hoops game. I am

 

napping in the sun again, on my other cheek

now, until I spot a skipper rock—but a skipping

 

boy announces himself king of our sandcastle,

the king, who is but a little man, racing to the tide

 

then backing away again—too icy for sand-scarred

toes. The sundial keeps moving past white-hot sand

 

so we duck from the rays, while the dolphin spins

out, flipping for a fish and disappearing underwater

 

where they buried me—under sand, water and myself.

Shake the sand away and back-dive—I’m holding my

 

breath and jumping up for air on my water

wings. Flamingoes are my favorite birds—the head

 

in the neck, peeking side to side and stretching

for a sneak attack to scoop a fish and stretching

 

to swallow him, tired from eating, the flamingo

shakes off slick water, her quick webbed foot-ball-

 

change. If I flew I would be as long as time, but my

knees are knobbly. Remember when they marched

 

in the monkeys—monkeys in propeller hats, who were

almost little men, except for their forever-long tails.

The Wrist Accumulates: The First of Three (Untold) Acts

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  1. Iron wrist arcing, short hand tracing the quarter

hour—unwind. Soft iron wrist arcing, short hand

tracing, long hand tracing—unwind. Soft iron

wrists, short hand tracing, long hand tracing, short

hand for the halo around a girl’s ear, forged from

fire—unwind. Hot iron wrists, second hand, minute

hand, after-breath halo around the ear, down, not

your turn, stay—unwind. Iron wrist tracing, short

hand, tracing, long hand, tracing the halo hovering

above the ear of the girl, and stay, turn yourself

inside out and upside in to lift—unwind. Iron

wrist arcing, tracing short, tracing long, bunny

around the ear tree, nothing for you now, so dig,

step without stepping—unwind. Iron wrist traces

small, traces double, traces the halo a firefly leaves

around the right ear, wait here, scoop, wait a footy

moment, second moment, expose overlapping smiles

as if the black-box photographer moved too soon—

unwind. Iron wrists, short tracing, long tracing, firefly

halo tracing, then fading, opening to catch water, then

turning back empty-handed, out of the act for a breath

then a hula, you are not here—unwind. Soft iron

tracing a wrist, tracing a farther wrist to envelop, not

too close, the iridescent ear, and away, and curling,

uncurling, playing dead fish, hula fool, you’re not

here, you’re a puppet rising on a string—unwind.

Less a Body

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When we began Trisha Brown’s work, my first experience was observing. I was an injured dancer, watching movements so natural at the same time as feeling alien to myself–a half-human, half-robot, with a bionic leg that did nothing to foster smooth motion. This early experience, together with the return to myself that began after I was able to dance Trisha’s work (a return noticed even by non-dancing classmates) and Iren’s insightful guidance and efflorescent energy, inspired the following poem.
 
 

 

Less a Body

 

Bodiless body of a bawdy girl, less or

more or in between here—beside the lesser

 

giant who is always sleeping—and Anytown,

Florida, halfway between nobody and Yeehaw

 

Junction, USA. What if one day, to save

space, the human race shed shoulder, elbow,

 

knee, hip, until all we were was heads? Homo

craniums—bodies, only in name, lest you

 

forget who we were, when we danced, outside

our bodies and most of all our heads, where

 

every lesson pivoted on the elbow, an axis

for a moment, a plumb, dropping its line

 

until the knee buckled and we followed our

hefty feet, nowhere, but we kept going, only

 

because if we stopped, we collapsed, fell back into

ourselves or the sleeper shook away this dream.

 

Akram Khan’s Energy Dancers

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If we were only dance—water that’s not

wet, warriors with no shields, nothing

 

but our primordial feet—their protozoan

pulse, our flagella-fingers washing away

 

our features—we could have spun into

forever on one spring breath, but instead

 

we were water that transpired into

air, and our feet stretched into earth,

 

and our hands blended with sky,

but once we put words to it, the dance

 

imprisoned itself into those words

and nothing more. If my mother

 

had seen us move, our Kathak rhythm—

it’s good, she would say, and the dance

 

would have stayed burning in our

bellies, like the Olympic torch, or

 

summer sand on your soles, or nothing

but the sea keeping everyone at bay.

Protect Yourself (Brush Away the Dust)

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We grow, doing less, and we are bigger

doing less—we follow our noses here,

 

to go there, to a time when we twirled

our beliefs in our fingers and raised our

 

curled hands—elbow, palm, unfurl—

to the clouds. If faith yanks your fingers,

 

faith, the impatient child who thrashes

in the mouth of the tiger, the audience

 

can see him from two thousand years

away. They taught us to make flowers

 

and half-flowers, and double flowers,

and tak, our feet answered, and doom,

 

doom, doom, doom. The dancers were

heavy as sound and swift as bells,

 

and when their bodies snaked stars

on the marley, we wanted to be birds

 

or warriors of air—a little more

vertical, with accents in our triangular

 

hips to punctuate the hush of our ribs,

when they melted through their cage.

Show me your Moses and I’ll show you who you are

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“I’ve never heard of a fractal dance,” said my friend, when, after seeing a book on fractals in the trunk of her car, I tried to explain Reggie’s work. In the age of technology, I relied on the pending video in lieu of words to explain.

Before I worked with Reggie, I had never seen a fractal dance either. Yet what I love most about Reggie’s work is how it interweaves curiosities—be they about fractals or Moseses. Dance may be the most lively art, and for a choreographer to draw inspiration from all of life is fitting.

Though I know very little about religion myself, I was drawn to Reggie’s explanation of his upcoming work, Moses. The Koch Curve, the fractal dance, is a part of Moses—and its repetition fits the Moses theme—the many forms of leaders and prophets, and the dancers following the leaders up and down life’s curve.

Moses is sometimes considered a lawgiver, and Moses’ mystery and leadership make the idea that your Moses reveals your self more meaningful than similar ideas about defining a person by the company she keeps.

I don’t know who my Moses is, but my Moses must be a dancer.

 

 

Moses and the Sea-Floor Dancers

 

This isn’t that kind of jump, Moses warned

me, or even that kind of dance, but how

 

else could we move when gravity was

over our heads and the sea was so red

 

our blood ran clear—when you leap

so deep underwater even the desert

 

can be a Promised Land. Moses was

another riddle, floating on the Dead

 

Sea. Because if the sea is so dead, what

do the seafloor dancers eat? And where

 

do they breathe? And how did fifteen sea-

floor dancers plié on the underside of the sky?

Gumboot’s Gut

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Right, left, clap, thigh, left, clap, thigh, right

Step, two, clap, thigh, left, clap, thigh, right

Foot, three, clap, slap, left, clap, thigh, eight

And, four, clap, slap, left, clap, thigh,

right—

 

left, right, clap, thigh, left, clap, (hold)

right, left, right, clap, thigh, left, clap, (break)

three, two, three, clap, thigh, left, clap, (gap)

tri-pe-let, clap, slap, left, clap, (   )—

 

right, left, clap, thigh, left, clap, thigh

stomp, two, clap, thigh, left, clap, thigh

down, two, clap, slap, left, clap, se’en

foot, foot, clap, slap, foot, clap, thigh—

 

right, clap, thigh, left, clap

right, clap, slap, left, clap

right, clap, slap, left, five

foot, clap, slap, foot, clap

 

clap, thighs, clap, thighs, clap, thighs, clap, thighs, clap, thighs, clap, thighs, clap, thighs, clap, thighs

clap, palms

clap, thighs, two, thighs, three, thighs, four, thighs, five, thighs, six, thighs, se’en, thighs, eight, thighs

clap, none

hands, pat, two, pat, three, pat, four, pat, five, pat, six, pat, se’en, pat, eight, pat

hands, up

clap, thighs, clap, one

clap, thighs, clap, thighs, clap, two

clap, thighs, clap, thighs, clap, thighs, clap, three

clap, lap, clap, lap, clap, two

clap, lap, clap, lap, clap, lap, clap, cross

clap, lap, clap, one

clap, cake, clap, cake, clap, cake, clap, both

clap, cake, clap, right

clap, cake, clap, cake, clap, left

thighs, clap, cross, butterfly

two, clap, cross, butterfly

three, clap, cross, butterfly

 

(Because to deconstruct a dance you must first deconstruct the body—to deconstruct the body you must first deconstruct the brain—to deconstruct the brain you must first deconstruct the idea of weight and let weight take you—heavy and light at once, because who can say which is better? And if you have no more separateness, when they find you dancing on the clock, who can say you were ever wrong?)

Can a Body?

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What are we talking about? Talking about talking? Talking about writing? Talking about words? Now I’m just riffing…

            -Reggie Wilson

 

If dance-writers faced one eternal question, the question would be how to put words to a wordless art. Yet to me that very challenge is enticing. What words can do is preserve the experiential essence of a dance for those who didn’t experience the dance in the moment, or even for those who did, to preserve the experiential essence in the best approximation of a time machine—taking the dancers and their watchers back to a moment when bodies were giants and gravity was a force under human control.

I once heard dancers have five strengths—technique, musicality, beauty, poetry and charisma. A strong background in ballet or modern dance gives technique, but in Mr. Wilson’s work, musicality is a new animal. Counts are as subjective as gravity in his work. Counts are as fluid as the spine rolling up and down its three positions. Counts don’t adhere to the standard 5-6-7-8 of “dancers’ counts,” just as up becomes larger than “dancers’ up.”

Counts are the spaces between the clap, or the stomp, or the switch of pelvis. And in those spaces too is the beauty. “Don’t be dramatic,” Mr. Wilson urged us, “just move the pelvis.” See from the pelvis, and the pelvis moves by its own vast intelligence.

 

 

If the Dew Wet

 

When we hung our wrists by invisible

threads and collapsed back into

 

our pelvises, opening our chests

to the sky—someday rain will

 

come, our mothers promised—but

we already knew about the rain, because

 

we were also weathervanes, and divining

rods, and any way our pelvises turned

 

we followed, and gravity followed the bend

in our knees, and we wrapped masks across

 

our hips to take on the dance, but we didn’t

know it was the dance who had taken on us.