I was thinking about art, reading about a great Russian dancer,
who, the writer suggested, was trapped
inside the heart, the expectation, of history.
When in his prime, this was his space to fill
with all the mountain thunder and muscled bravado
we’ve come to associate with coal-driven trains—
throbbing pistons, steam, which in the movies of the time
represented the thrill and the rage
of thwarted sexual obsession. A dancer such as this,
still in his twenties, by force of imagination and his astonishing body,
can go anywhere. The turn off an inside left foot,
spinning toward Orion, will land him in someplace like Berlin
or Ceylon with its narrow alleys
opening to the public throng,
so that he’ll find himself swept along
as a leaf is blown by the near-vertical sheets of rain
in a great storm. The pinpricks of raindrops
exhilarating as he rearranges his future hurriedly,
taken by the urban human flood for a decade or more
in a direction he’d have thought alien to his nature
had he the time to think.
When he slows, finally, finds he is able to slow,
his gait seasoned by a thickening everywhere—
in the air, in his legs (as we’ve seen
in photographs)—as a consequence of his powerlessness,
he’ll be inclined to melancholy.
And clueless. Yet his little steps,
like those of a five-year-old delighted
by the variety he can produce along the edge of a curb,
tottering nearly into the gutter
but retaining balance and momentum,
will be fresh. And surprising. Isn’t this
what he’d aimed for all along?
Nobody watching. Nobody cares.
This is for himself alone, the world be damned. Eternal work.
What aria do you hear
in dreams? Where does it take you?
How does it take you there?
A transformation as sudden as
scent to memory? The air stained
by nutmeg invokes a girl’s
ankle, 2nd grade, just after
she pushed her anklet down to
scratch a mosquito bite. Yes,
nothing’s so instantaneous
as odor to scramble all our ages
into Now. Partly it’s a matter
of sadness. A dog sleeping
nineteen hours a day may well
be equal to the theme of
Fate rising inexorably
from Beethoven’s Seventh
Symphony because the dog
is old, smells old. Not just
at the mouth. Spread her paw’s
grainy pads and take a whiff:
a skirt, somebody’s skirt
all rumply-swirled into
a pattern of pale blue
wavelets, stiff from drying
after being soaked (it rained
the week before), lying in weeds
in an enormous vacant
downtown lot. The skirt’s
rank smell, its delicate
configuration recall a minor
Baroque composer who stood
at the head of the orchestra
pounding a staff to keep
time; who impaled his foot,
the foot growing gangrenous, putrid;
who died, one might say, in
the service of form. The story
as memorable as a melody. A light
guffaw in the face of tragedy.
Now the fragrance of roses
on a child’s coffin. Now the tremor
of loose window glass in thunder.
Who, in full possession of their bodily
senses, could hope to choose?
||The gaps between words
give the spirit
“This is good,” the mind says,
the gap is bridgeable
but not quite bridgeable.
If the mind
can make out, with effort,
inexactly—of tree and boulder
the opposite shore.
So that in the mild
frustration of that effort,
which is desire, what’s
in the body. The way a hand
traces the beloved’s
shoulder, the hand dreaming
beyond the contour
as a form of looking
into the other.