Dancer First on the Floor, Debi

Back then, we had sunburned tips of noses,

sand permanently stuck to feet.

Dinner, a pig pulled and dressed,

Sat abandoned on paper plates.

Sacrifice meant nothing as waves

Crashed near, and the skim of the pool

Wobbled gently.

 

A standing speaker lept alive.

Soulful beats familiar thanks to dad.

But I was afraid.

 

Afraid of my height, of my body and how it would

Move wrong or freeze. Afraid of an empty, chlorinated

Dance floor that could swallow me whole.

 

Did you know this fear? We never saw.

Instead, you charged ahead.

A dancer first on the floor,

celebrity in style, grace and light.

You the heartbeat and we now rushing cells.

 

How we danced! Your bronzed arms

Swinging front to back. Legs in rhythmic

Steps side to side. Husband across

Matching each joyful bounce. Your ever-widening

Smile an invitation to join

a life of frequency spun open like a feast.

 

Each song was a gift

and I suddenly lifted from the puddles.

 

There in North Carolina,

You taught me to be free.

How to harness a deep energy and then, pass it along.

 

We like ripples danced

until music became goodbye.

Us cousins, tired and sated, followed

like ducklings back over the boards

to a home temporarily by the sea.

 

written 4.1.20

First time asleep

the first time i slept with him,
that sleep unafraid, mouth open,
not worried about drool or how my
cheeks fold and stack unattractive, i
felt like i had stepped out of
my skin, unzipped, truly naked
for the first time, thinking you’ve
never seen me before until now, you’ve
never realized how i would
lie awake waiting until your breath
cascaded slower, until your own
mouth fell aside, your soft snore my
signal: all clear to close your eyes.

single in the summer

You, girl, are preoccupied
with the way heat from an afternoon sidewalk
steams your bare thighs. You let
thunder bang around in the empty
cavity of your day-dreamin mind.

Forget what they sold you.

Love is not a hot dress, a polished spoon,
a bleak expectation, 

It is a moment you’ll never own;
a long-awaited rain slipping into dirt,
or how you can silently lean
into a Miles Davis’ horn 
sounding a single humid and final note.

Braiding

We, with long fingers and
deft movements,
tame freshly washed hair
into three equal parts.

Without thought,
strands become one,
twisting over and
over to fall gently down
a smooth bare back

in the mirror,
we turn, preening-
smooth the sides
stroke the length of braid.
Ghostly generations
nod approval.

I Shall Sing A Song by Helen Bayley Davis (1936)

This poem was taken from the book of the same title by poet Helen Bayley Davis, copyright 1936. The book was inscribed to my great-grandmother in a beautiful black cursive, “From one poet to another with best wishes for your continued success.”

I Shall Sing A Song

I shall sing a song
Of my own making,
Of life, and love —
All subterfuge forsaking.

It will be the same song
That fools and sages
Have lived and died for,
Down through the ages.

What does it matter
That I sing alone,
That life has stripped me
Bare as a bone?

I shall sing a song
Of my own choice.
I shall sing it softly
In a brittle voice.