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The Great Wave off Kanagawa , woodcut by  Katsushika Hokusai , ca. 1829–1833

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, woodcut by Katsushika Hokusai, ca. 1829–1833

White Dancer

White dancer, lone follow spot
moves an empty stage
her slender neck a filigree

bowing to the boards, she is
abandoned in bright lights
a swan, yet does bequeath

in her performance silken grace
an artist with her body lithely
sublimating tragedy

in her gesture of a death scene
one could not see by sorrow’s
streaming veil a dancer’s closer grief.

If ever she had dreamt of Coole
old swan flying over turlachs
she might have spied the leaden man

who wandered in another’s dream
of the one he could not have
pleading with a remnant sky.

Yeats’ swan of shallow lakes
was leaving, fading, leaving
just one question posed

being one staccato burst
should not the bird have flown
seized Beauty’s love on wing?

For the painter his tin bucket
brushes with such primitives
grinding powders dabbing colors

stabbing with a junkie’s hand
across a field of middling grays
thick greens, the black for night

and yellow blindness, at the heart
it is his own dark moment,
can he risk a pause to study

afforded time enough to see
what one shaky hand has wrought?
Bluesman, Memphis-bound

run from love or worse offense
bending, turned and stretching thin notes charged electric clean

so any truthful player knows
he runs the scales for substitute
and grunts to ease his broken days.

If he can sing, the lyrics sounding
like a rasp across cold iron
may admit to common

crudities, betrayals
sliding from commitments
with a knowing charm

and in a blinding pool
an abject misery of light
the pride he wears is hard worn.

If one thin student monk
at Zen rakes stones, each pass
its own universe each wave

crest caught by sun, he may
imagine piling oceans
yet never reach a shore so far.

Against his momentary brightness
his star as to infinity, prosaic
motions, winter motives

lead me to my focus, will I
seek this day’s enlightenment
or spend my gift at screaming

raking art from abstract space
like air between the flakes
a snow of white forgiveness

cold as absence yet more
is coming, smell the air
intuitive as breathing, stirring

wildness in response, this winter
passing. Without white
the ground and stones exposed

so the student works his rake
and kneels in desperate prayer
where no one sees him.

How does a white swan grieve
without music and a stage
an audience to mourn with her

best purpose told in gesture
her best intent is reenactment
with libretto by another–where?

Where in such a captured
stage of boards and curtain calls
might she find hers, she

who’ll spend her life in practice
slamming toes until they ulcer
portraying graceful sadness?

Did his bird of grace so stir
the leaden poet bound there
by a wave chopped shore

did he ever mount the sky
earthbound heart flying close beside her before winter?

Troubling, these images
pursuing dry abstractions
when his life was oceans wild

as wide as to the way across
close sailing with the birds of grace
above this middling water.

Song leaves first, my heart cries
dance is momentary, light
is fleeing into yesterday.