for Robert Hayden
Give me back to my body—not the same
narratives you write everyday nor wheels on
ends of piano legs, but rather, a momentary
transcendence, or at least system overridden,
before you take a bullet in the back—
Across the stage, we buckle in whatever
direction, sway and pivot in open-air
theatre, from it learn the business
of believing demands your overtime,
demands days you can’t acknowledge
sweetest face staring back, can’t answer
questions you are being asked. You wonder if
the dance, indeed, can be rewritten, whether
your sequence of motions through an environment
might change its blueblack design.
Inside the train your back faces a destination, though ahead—
love’s austere and lonely offices— is where you have been.
The metaphor feels terrible, how literal it is,
and queasiness ensues. You won’t sit
this way again, you think, then do.
Labanotation #2 (Dancer Inside Icosahedron)
you leave behind
music as parameter,
pamphlet of poses,
never cared for, hell,
what bit you,
no one knows
once you witnessed
a man boxing
against the wall,
slathered in paint
all to find new
literacy & face
a sheet of canvas or
long switch in hand—
& you, unable to see
into jars, chose
a different punishment,
lifting arms into
the air—a movement
less about catching
& more about uncoding
the body, how
gives way to gravity
after Bill T. Jones
Though today you are without
pollinators in chemical fields, stage erasing
under your feet, though you’d like to leave this
neighborhood and throw the door or
just fall off-stage, it is so good to have
choreography: Shift weight to right leg
and lift left knee, foot, and head to ceiling. Step through—
Once, someone convinced you the ground
was dead matter, defined by intervention, and told
a joke about killing a circus by going for its juggler.
Meantime, arms fly apart, drawing clocks
in the sand, your action one of hovering, while faint,
a wave moves through and grows—itself a tiny garden.
It is so good to have choreography. To be accomplice
to your own witnessing— leg swings round, stumble, step right, then left.
Right yourself. Though they say improvisation
scares living daylights, Get out, out of this neighborhood, throw
the door, throw it all open. Don’t be [shout]. And don’t you worry about a thing.
Yes, so good to have choreography, to get back to
cold distance air between hand and chest, cold distance air.
And though improvisation scares the dead and
the living, the way to get back
to choreography, you realize, requires your own
departure from it, so you describe what you are doing
and tell everyone: In front of you I will make the phrase.
Esther Lee is a poet, essayist, and letterpress fanatic. She is the author of Spit, winner of the Elixir Press Poetry Prize, and her chapbook, Blank Missives. Her writing, visual art, collaborations, and book arts projects have appeared in Ploughshares, Verse Daily, Hyphen, and elsewhere. A Kundiman Fellow, she received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Indiana University where she served as Editor-in-Chief for Indiana Review. Her honors and awards include the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize, Snowcroft Prose Prize, and Utah Writer’s Contest Award for Poetry selected by Brenda Shaughnessy, as well as three Pushcart Prize nominations.