—five—six—seven—eight, and one— The dancers drum onstage
from the wings where they were before the downbeat,
that prehistoric moment, bandaged and flinching,
calloused, split, grinning—the tick-swish of soles
on bare wood; their presence shifts how light leaps
off the watch of the ex-nun’s date. Such sound
bodies. Their backs, extraordinary overlaps
of muscle bound to bone. Contract/release,
land masses, ice floes break up, tectonics.
India ramming Asia there, under the scapula,
Himalayan scapula where legend says Doubting
Thomas spread the Gospel, a martyr in the shadow
of Everest or these wing-boned backs. It is
good news, the teaching: the dance does not begin
on the downbeat. You’re already dancing
on the —five—six—seven—eight, and—
you enter with history. Getting comfortable,
the ex-nun tilts her chin, lowers her shoulders
barely covered by rose silk,
once covered by a white wool scapular, that
strip of habit worn between gown and cape.
Her hands flat under it, thumbs tucked
into her belt. Her body still, if nothing more,
her presentation inspired by—what?— a long
tradition of women, given. Diamonds now
at her ears and throat, hands, ungloved yet
folded. She understands medieval Eckhart’s prayer
that God should rid him of God, as she could not at twenty-five,
longing never to lose the idolatry, feeling it go:
the cloak; the headgear of wimple and guimpe;
veil, cape, tunic; sensible grandmother shoes.
She wonders: How could she or anyone dance and not
enter with history? How does gravity, the law of the present,
perfect the dancer? The stretch at the barre, the leap and lift
reflexive as religious exercise, condition this moment.
On pointe, we are all sore-footed pilgrims performing as
our bloody footprints dry already from dressing room to stage.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.