Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Michael Simms: The Turn

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).

Still from the 1968 film Isadora starring Vanessa Redgrave.

10 comments on “Michael Simms: The Turn

  1. joannanglin
    November 11, 2020

    Thanks for running this. I really enjoyed your reading of it on Sunday and wished then that I could see it in print. And, voila!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. allisonfine
    November 8, 2020

    Love this! Great poem!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Barbara Huntington
    November 8, 2020

    Are we pondering age because of the pandemic? I don’t think so, because, at least in my case, it started gaining speed with the year my uncle, my nephew and his young bride, my father, and my cat died and intensified with my mother’s husband, her Alzheimer’s and death, a dear friend, my father in law, my husband, as you grow older, the list grows long. I threw away high heels at 50, continued my bright colors. Now my sweats are the pajamas I walk the dog in ( adding hat, shoes, mask). I agonize if I can’t remember the date or day and worry more because my mother would say, “who gives a damn?” as her cover up. I become ridiculously upset when zoom times assume eastern time and I count back 3 hours more than once. Is it covid? Is it confinement? Is it age, is it dementia? I have all my bright colors—scarves, shawls, and the RBG tees. I zoom with Tibet or Peru in the background. I say I don’t give a damn, but I do.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. loranneke
    November 8, 2020

    Oh that scarf…oh that poem!

    Like

  5. kim4true
    November 8, 2020

    The story of Isadora Duncan … fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

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