New York, 2015
Trailing through the stratosphere to the hard city
of solitary icons and step-backs.
Slack tourist. I take no photographs of Deco detail
or low light smeared across the broken sidewalk.
When mornings come, I count the numbers down
Columbus to 65th Street, cross the Plaza
into Lincoln Centre’s archival fold. Winter still, in late
March. And through the trees, you can see
a two-part hefty figure, built up from one
small piece of bone.* I wonder on its shape,
that first clue toward an outcome. How to gather
flesh around a concept so defined it points to
living? I carry my own small clue; a postcard, picked up
years ago, for free, at the entrance to a local café.
And now, enrolled in a library’s quiet order
I hunch over folios and folders, for leads
toward a human form.
North East to repeats of Cheers and clam chowder,
my days are spent dry-mouthed in Houghton’s
Reading Room, as underwhelmed librarians fetch
orders from the list of MS Thr 411: George Balanchine’s
personal papers.* I type out private signals from abundant
correspondence, arcing back to John and Jackie, Jimmy Carter,
Gene Kelly. There are 2822 folders of accumulated evidence:
clippings and cuttings and transcripts of interviews, medical
reports and photographs and medals and certificates.
I open hammy love poems scrawled in red, and limp jokes
lost on a stranger, observe the urgency in a grocery list:
milk, cig, cat food. These are my photographs, snapped
quickly, with a cough: a clumsy collage of headshots,
upended from an envelope — George at different ages
but always that inscrutable stare; a tarnished key
in its leather pouch, along with currency and strange receipts;
and item no. 2822, an accordion that can’t be played.
Bodies can travel through spaces unexpectedly,
can collide with a resonant wound. In Copenhagen,
language-astray, I lug my suitcase miles across the city
to a flat beside the Peblinge Sø, adjacent to a mural
of a bowhead whale trapped in netting. George’s
recurrent bad luck in this city. I visit the local theatre,
watch a ballet he inspired, and another
where a young girl screams, just once.
In St. Petersburg, I spend days in bed, shut out white nights
with the heavy curtains. My muscles ache, my nose
runs right on into Paris, where the sun is bright and hot;
I hide and eat cheese in the shade, hold my breath over
bad plumbing. The Pompidou reveals exquisite Arp, Chagall,
Matisse; Miró’s Portrait of a Dancer nails its turn, leaves me
New York, 2018
Mr. Balanchine once said, a good cook must not rush,
needs patience. Three years on low heat, the bone
has gained some flesh, articulates new bones, more flesh.
I return to the archive to add sinew, organ, skin — to push
the poem towards a pulse. In the plaza, Moore’s
Reclining Figure sashays in the heat of June. All my purpose,
honed on tending traces of the moving body, memories
stored in muscles that are primed to flex and glide across
a kitchen or a parquet floor. In four more weeks, my arms
are full at port de bras with recipes for dance; the steps
evolve experiments, resolve as lines along an arabesque
penchée, circled ‘round a ronde de jambe, crooked at an
elbow, jazzed. Only now, that postcard, picked up
on a whim, attracts new shapes and angles and vibrations
all those lines, collected, merge into poems, pull tight
from the core to form a book I hold in my hands.
Mr. Balanchine sniffs over my shoulder on his way past,
and he says “No monuments. Only butterflies.”
I hear a grand piano starting up somewhere
in the distance, open my arms, and move on.