Image of the Dancer

By Rita Gadi

(This poem was published in the Varsitarian in 1963 and won the third prize in the 1964 Palanca Awards.)


Mirror the soul, cold, dancing on a lighted stage
Bare legs and arms spread with the music—
Sweating ten fingers and ten toes of soft white ashen
Clay: something is wrong here, like disconnected parts,
Something is a figure not complete, here;
Between the soft white ashen clay and the bone-roots
It is dark, and hollow and darker still, than all
Darkness of an unlit stage.

Mirror the soul, bending the knee and raising its arms
In a gesture of grace and rhythm, and higher, now,
And faster, bending the head, even, now, faster,
Faster and faster and higher, until the motion is like
A feather caught in a whirlwind—
Then, the curtains close and one Audience claps:
Bravo! More claps. Encore! Encore!

We sit like toothpicks with swollen heads smoking
Like addicts of a ballet rehearsal’s crew
Inhaling the clap of one Audience; remember, this,
January, remember: We move from one sensual figure
To another, from a dead eye to another, spreading
Bare arms and legs with the forte of violins
And pale before the tomb of Eve.

Mirror the soul breaking the mirror . . .

Deathless affair of bone-roots and clay
Scatters on the stage to dance.
We love here, and belong here, and die here, with salt
On our lips: Speechless now, though we
Have not yet spoken.
Most lonely the dance, and more lonely the dancer grows
From a silhouette of veins perspiring, and blood,
Deep, over the floor, weeping—
Like rubber plants bled during the harvest:
Thick, deep, grieving,
Dancing, noiselessly, barefoot.

Forsaken foot and loveless:
This is my body, and there is my soul!

Pretend you do not see the inner suffering:
Death on a pirouetting charm of leprositic feet
Giving the ghost the sweetest homecoming.
For this the dance shall marry the dancer
To lie beside each other, clay and ghost,
Before the curtains close.


Now tombs have autumn passions plucking at their worms
Beside the death aquarium of the wife of Man.
Even the Garden dried and reduced Eternity to Time’s measure
When even Time is not subject to reduction:
Hideous moments—all possessing all.
In time, she, too, was a dancer
Singularly exposed.

You have seen the image of Adam:
Pillar of salt pinned to an impetuous sport.
Children of the world peopling the heavens
After a birth in Hell, and a death on Earth;
Carbon of souls purified by a Figure nailed between
Two thieves. Was that an organ that played at the wedding
Of Paradise, when the hosts ran out of wine
And a woman, also a daughter of Eve, whispered to her Son

And raising His eyes to the Audience
The Carpenter gave wine from a spear-cut heart.

The quiet of his stage
Performs, encore, the Sin and Sorrow Act,
Given the choreographic exposure instead of speech.
Watch the arms closely, the body, the head,
And the feet—movements, only, of dancing toes—
Is the soul but a motion in a shoe?
A history of painted performers spinning on eternity;
An artist trapped between her poem and foot?
In vogue, an age, we are interrupted typics of
Universal errors; established adults of vaudeville
Street shows—but not quite complete nor made whole
Neither pitied, nor mercied, nor eldered as one
Fully disguised, and costumed.

At one time to make love and murder
At another, to make hate, and life.
For this, a million Eves carry an olive leaf
To scent the foot of the Ballerina.


Abstract stage and still more abstract dance;
Does not the music fill the space of words
And the figures of the earth, do they not move, too,
In their private chambers, alone, but being
More companioned in being alone?

Anonymous shapes have carved themselves against
The dark of twelve seasons.
How much of light returned should give the
Measure of Time one satisfying thought:
From passioned birth all figures are shaped;
One speaks with slender accents of a foreign tongue
Like water sliding over satin lace, in expensive whispers.

The heart is full of shadows,
Dancer: how far the distance is between what
Is learned from that of learning.
Whichever manner the face is painted, the picture
Is, even as a moment out of the Eternal, a meaning.
Think that the sould, its universe, has goal.
One hour summons a generation: father, mother,
the future child, the someday overwhelming seed!

The steps move the constellations.
Dance-figure transcending the pointing of a toe;
For this we celebrate the future perfection.

Silent seeds nourished from the breasts of pain
Feed us, drinking bitter, the wine and meaning of Sin.
Migrations from the Theatre
Have dispossessed our bodies from Grace:
Music, lover, we have lost the music!

Compose bare bones and legs.
All manner of life, live well!
The Blue is reached by a vertical climb;
Dance, royal-pure, daughter of Eve!