A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
An old woman is swimming laps At the Y, graceful and fast – I time her at 30 seconds a lap, 36 minutes a mile, Almost twice my speed. Of course I’m a plodder, no Mark Spitz, But still I’m impressed By the efficiency of her strokes. She overhands on her back Until 8 feet from the wall, she Flips on her stomach, crawls 2 strokes Dives, spins and pushes gently Off the wall in a perfect turn. How long has she practiced These succinct movements So free of affectation? Unlike Isadora moving as if made of wind, A creature of pure invention, Pure expression, she thrived on attention. Zelda wrote how she and Scott sat In a Paris café, watching a drunk Duncan. He later spoke Of how memorable she was But what Zelda recalled Was that while all eyes Were watching Duncan, Zelda was able to steal The salt and pepper shakers From the table. Isadora died at 50, A victim of her own desire To be dramatically beautiful. On a September night In Nice, a passenger in a car Owned by Benoît Falchetto A gorgeous Italian mechanic, Isadora wore a long flowing Hand-painted silk scarf Created by the Russian Artist Roman Chatov, a gift From her friend Mary Desti, The mother of Preston Sturges, Stars all. Desti suggested Isadora Wear a cape in the open-air vehicle Because it was a cold night But Isadora wanted the enormous Scarf to blow behind her Exquisitely. As they departed She said to Desti "Je vais à l'amour" Meaning she and Falchetto Were off to her hotel for a tryst. The draped scarf around her neck Wafting behind her as she stood With the wind in her face Became entangled in the spoke Of a wheel, hurling her From the car to the stone Pavement, killing her instantly, Leading to Gertrude Stein's Famous mordant remark Affectations can be dangerous. Good advice. Isadora’s pose Killed her which Leads me to wonder If Isadora had lived Another 30 years, Would she have lost Her affectation? If we live Long enough do we lose Our craving for tableau vivant? Does our art strip down To the smallest gesture? And so It’s the old dancers that fascinate me. Training everyday as the body resists, The spirit lifts them into clarity. Everything happens at 100. Everything changes, Eileen Kramer Says. Her life, she says, Has become magical and she dances With soft sinuous gestures That move like billowing folds Of fabric. Men too sometimes flower in our last years. I think of Yeats in his 70s Casting a cold eye On Ben Bulben, his grave In a windy churchyard far From the snow-white girls posing In the salley gardens Of his youth. And I think Of the practical and visionary Mandela, having so impressed The warder that he spent His last few years in prison As a guest in the warder’s home. By then, all pretense had been seared From him by years of study and meditation in confinement. Leaving prison, Mandela Held Winnie’s hand In front of a huge crowd, the event Broadcast across the world. He gave a speech pledging Peace and reconciliation And thus began a new era. As for me, my accomplishments Are meager in comparison But I did teach myself to swim At the age of 36. By the end Of that summer I swam a mile Every day and beside me My mentor Mel, 40 years older, Swam 2 miles a day, then went home, Ate a tuna sandwich, watched Sesame Street And came back to the gym To play basketball. I asked him once Why Sesame Street? And he responded Joy is the source Of wisdom, something I’ve pondered Every day since.
Michael Simms is the founding editor of Vox Populi. His books include American Ash (Ragged Sky, 2020).