Tuesday, September 9, 2008

And other words I do not know

I had felt hazier days in my young life. But this one had a kind of churned up quality that made it memorable in itself. I wish I could recount that the weather co-operated and was a dismal gray of moving clouds. But it wasn't. The sky was bright blue, and filled with swirls of shard white that were high above us. High above me.

I had retreated to the brown paneled walls of a favorite coffee and chocolate shop, there to dull a feeling the weighed heavily in my midriff, a kind of weight that banged from side to side as I walked, or sunk down until it felt like I had eaten a whole pound cake, whole, without biting or chewing. I stared at the swirls of milk that I had doused a bright tan tea, rich with red African over tones, and smelling of someone elses native earth. The rim of the cup was white with some finely drawn nascent cracks which spelled the doom of this particular piece of pottering. They were tatooed with the stains of drinker's past. I wondered how much exhuberance and despair this cup had been party too. I thought on the lips that must have caressed it's surface, or teeth that had bit into it. I thought of the breathes that had flowed over the liquid draughts that it had contained.

So much life had passed over this one cup. As mine did now, my own emotions still separated and colloided, as the milk was still not mixed with tea as the tip of my tongue tenderly dipped itself. It was not that hot. I had let the tea sit for some time, my stomach unwilling to bear even this faint trace of nutrients.

I had not been cut by the company, but it was all but. The time for auditioning for roles was at hand. And my memory served me this way...

I was, towel over shoulder, confidently chatting with another dancer. She had been taking classes, and had often marveled at my quiet poise, and the dedication. I was often there first, I was often the last to leave the barre, I knew the exercises, I could almost recite them. I knew the words, the syllables tripping off my tongue. Often I could repeat for others after class the combinations, and my hands easily fell into the gestures which described the motions of the feet. I was precise in my execution.

And so this petty masteries of more profound mysteries had made me this girl's idol. Her straw beach blonde hair, with just a trace of summer salt yellow at the roots, was pulled back tight and straight. Her long, but not unpleasantly long, features in contrast to my own flatter ones. Her nose, itself, was a kind of extension. Her whole body seemed to be one stretched curve from head to foot. She asked me a pepper of questions, her voice rolled to the upper back of her throat producing a carrying resonance. I answered, coughing slightly at moments, and taking pauses to catch my breath. The asthma that had followed me since almost as soon as I had to wear glasses, I can remember that last superlatively healthy day before I knew the yoke of either, caught me by turns. But I did not allow it to slow my speech, or make me loose the ends of words. I often would start a sentence slowly to gather my breath under me. But after some minutes the concept explained, she wandered off, but glanced over her shoulder and looked back at me, smiling. No beaming. A bright sun ray that had struck human form and blossomed.

Her feet churned backwards, and I recall seeing how thin her figure was through her leotard, and how there was a definition to her muscles that was new since the months we had first spoken together. Ballet was shaping her muscles and bones, her body and motions. She was it's clay.




That it was another's voice shook me from the reverie of believing that the dance made us all swans. I turned and looked, and it was our teacher, also the assistant something or other to the Company. The guardian gatekeeper of precious audition slots. I had been working on mine, with her, at additional cost in private lessons. I wanted a role, even though it would be small and in the corps de ballet.

I had turned myself completely to face her. I knew it was bad news. I knew what she was going to say. I pursed my lips. I felt a nail driven through the outer corner of each eye. I simply turned and walked away, my face burning hot with humiliation. I have drawn a thousand faces, and seen beauty and horror in life and in art, but that one face was not a face, but an apparition. It was all swirls and no colors, a ghostly white sheet, eyes seemingly leaping from the face they were so harsh. What I did not give her time to say, was that I was not going to be allowed to audition.

I was not even worth her time, now that I was not paying for it.

So the acrid taste of over-steeped tea, a thing I almost never allowed myself to allow, finally hit my throat. And I, in a most unmannered way, slurped down the entire cup and set it down. I felt, for an instant, like I should crown this sorry performance, with left an errant drop escaping down the corner of my lip, with a belch or some other gesture of contempt for the rules of oh so polite society.

But even as I did this, even as the cup was headed down to the saucer, which was untouched by trace of moisture, or grain of sugar, I had straightened my back, and felt the wire pull up through my body and stretch the whole of me taut. I came as I did so to a resolution, that I would withdraw from classes, and never again permit myself the dream of a pointed foot touching a lit stage, as others stared upon me. Never again would I allow my dreams to soar where my body would not. I had not allowed myself to tears in public, I would not allow them again.

I visualized this. Cleaning out my place in the dressing room, alone. And simply not paying the next bill when it arrived for classes. Never again whisking through those tight hallways, never pass on the left! Passing by other thin shoulders and lither longer bodies than mine. My petty intellect which could remember the steps was not enough, because I had not the height to fit in, nor the talent to shine above. I was good enough, to be not good enough. This I knew, for that one time when I had been upon the stage, as a professional, I had been the one who had hissed the correct direction or inflection to lost girls and boys in our weaving moments.

I close my eyes and remembered it.

I pulled out my small laptop, it's metal skin brushed to dull. And I opened it. But my eyes closed again, I rested my fingers on the keyboard by habit, but instead leaned forward, the under cups of my almost flat breasts touching the flesh between my thumb and forefinger. The two halves of my dreams. One in my hands, my hands, with their many veins and fluid muscles. That turn so precisely and concisely, if not always with the exact accuracy I would like. And my flesh, which, despite straining at it's containment was not enough.

Since I had danced my whole life, I was used to my figure being a sinew, and I had never, until that exact moment, felt my breasts were not large enough. Though sometimes I had joked that I had "nipple mooshu," after the pancake that wraps a conglomeration of meat, sauce, and bean sprout. At that moment I felt that more of me should have pressed on my hands, and that I should be as I saw so many of the others around me, shaped and endowed with the mysteries of a presented fertility. I felt sterile, unfeminine, as if I had traded the lushness of the body for an austere excellence. Only to find that it was withered.

I sat and drank I do not remember how much tea, and typed words and poems and whole symphonies of tears and rage, my face serious in each one, and yet all forgotten in whole, or in any of their parts. I packed myself, and into a fast looming twilight that had at least had the decency to acquire an autumnal chill, returned to the dressing room, now nearly empty and dark. There were whispered conversations, and in the kind of ego-centrism that the fatally wounded pride possessed, I felt a glance up to be pointing out me, as an example of what happened when those not good enough dared. I packed my things, and then walked out to the desk, and in a gesture that was of finality, which I had been told to execute on leaving, dropped the key into a green metallic box, worn and scraped from years of use.

I left that house, and did not ever return. The next day I got a phone call, and as soon as the dry tones of that voice came over it. I said. I blurted? No not quite so abrupt, but it's equivalent given how measured my speech usually is.

"I know."

"I won't be coming back."

"I am sorry for wasting your time."

And yet I would never leave, still pirhouttes turned through openings in people or objects, still french affectations on my fingers as I wrote. Still.

And that word caught me. I had had an invitation to study for a semester in Berlin. Berlin, that Germanic home of heavy. Far from any capital of dance, and rife with a language I did not yet understand, but could feel having a solidity of mass and purpose like the feel of oil paint as I mixed it on the palette.

Ja. That is where I should go. To the city on the dark eastern edge of the West, and there to seek out some dark light which might illuminate the workings of my hands. Rather than my dreams of being a light, alight, and a light, amidst the dark backdrop of stage.

It closed my eyes and imaged the smooth purring of German cars in their cacophony, and in it heard the song of the death of swans dreams.

And other words I do not know.


  1. Lillian. Thank you for this complex and compelling outpouring of memory and sensation.

  2. I hope to keep going on this, but I can't make any promises.