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.)

I.

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.

II.

Eve.
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.

III.

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!

The Lady of October

By Rita Gadi

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

First Nun:

Nothing remotely suggests
what the moon has tried
to conceal: at the foot of the mountain
we found a penitent, clinging to his
nightshirt, counting his fingers
and crying,
weeping under the shadow
of the moon, but the shadows
failed to hide his tears, and the moon
shone like the witch hysterical
over the water on his cheeks.

Second Nun:

Somewhere
in the crowded city
we heard
the song of the Lady hugging the walls
of an old cathedral.
A song of sorrow asking to be heard
above the waves of a crowded city’s
voice. It was asking to be heard
because the City suffers from a famine;
there is no wheat coming from the fields,
the earth has turned a yellow color
—now dry and ruinous.

First Nun:

But the moonlight could not dry his tears.

Second Nun:

The birds from the city have
fallen with the rains.
The song of the Lady re-echoes
through the grief and the glory;

“We cannot sleep the nights. Our eyes
are parched. The days are hot and long
carrying an emptiness more
than the hollow
in our stomachs.
And I know that death is not far from us.”

First Nun:

He wept for his sins and wet the earth
beneath his knees.
But his tears were salt, and the earth
bore no fruit, no green, not even
a stir opening to the small, small drops.

Second Nun:

Only She lamented the hunger of the City.
The people knew they were starving
but were too busy to care why or where
to ask for food. For the City, it is true,
has much oil for its cars, and
power for its lights.
In that mass of machines where everything
opens and closes, moves and stops
the growing of the grass, the green,
the stir of the wind,
the temper of the sea, the thunder
from the mountains—all these echoes
of heaven
are not heard.

First Nun:

Hunger in a penitent’s soul
is all the pain the dry season brings.
Tears by the mountains huddled
what manner of man is this that kneels
by the stone, and strikes his breast
with sounds like prayer?

The voice of prayer goes beyond
the fire in the breast
beyond the swell of watered eyes.
The voice of prayer comes
from a sanctuary
of stillness, where a Child could
dwell between the metal and the spirit.
A condition of complete simplicity,
where a world is complete before the Altar
and a heart without the world,
simple.

The people must know of the famine
cast among their banquets and their appetites,
they do not notice the clouds
that pass with no water in them,
driven before the winds, autumn trees
bearing no fruit; life plucked by the roots.

First Nun:

Who shall tell the people?

Second Nun:

Before the Black Sea, there were thirty pairs.

 

                                         Part II

The Lady:

From the blessed St. John
a message to thee from the Truth
the source from which God’s creation began:

“I know of the doings, and find these
neither cold nor hot.
Being what thou art, lukewarm,
make me vomit thee out of my mouth.
See where I stand at the door
knocking: if anyone listens to my voice
and opens the door, I will come in
to visit him, and take my supper with
him.”

Chorus:

Listen, you who have ears, to the message

The Lady:

The Spirit has for the people.
They have ruined the churches,
and many have died . . .

Chorus:

Without prayers for their graves

The Lady:

Unheeding the bitter waters

Chorus:

. . . of hell.

The Lady:

Who shall tell us what to do?
When hearts like doors have closed themselves
and the streets have crowded with cheerers
Mocking a Man riding a donkey,
the tide of the traffic has thickened
over the square;
does not a Child come up to the Man
that He may ask
for all to hear: “Unless you become
as little children, you shall not enter
My kingdom.”

What, no child?

Chorus:

Was that laughter?

First Nun:

Hail Mary
we turn to thee.
The Lamb of God, behold!
mocked by electronic robots
and computing machines.

Second Nun:

Holy Mary,
behold our vineyards: the clusters
look rich and ripe
but when gathered and pressed before
His judgment . . .

Chorus:

Lord, hear our cries
Have mercy, have mercy

Two Nuns:

The vintage from the earth gave us wine
Not one single drop
for the Figure on the Cross
Who shed His last for them

The Lady:

The crop of the earth is dry
Go to the nuns, ask them to pray!

First Nun:

The world is neither the convent
nor the church door, only.

Second Nun:

The Lord did not die for the convent
nor the church door, only.

Chorus:

The sinner by the stone mountain
with his false consfessions has been
invited for dinner.
Go, tell him to dress himself
and attend
the Banquet of the Lord,
and there
pour out his grief that penance
may be anointed over his forehead
and he may go
to the Square in the morrow to proclaim:
“I can see! I am blind no more!”

The Lady:

In the square, the people are too busy
feasting with their gold.
They do not seem to starve for food.
They do not seem to go blind, or deaf,
or mute,
or sick with the palsy.

What then?

Chorus:

Shall the blind man made seeing,
the sinner pardoned,
be heard over the waves of traffic and noise?
When the temper of the tide shall rise
and fall,
when the earth shall be open and made green,
when the birds come homing from the South,
when the sharp sickle of the Angel gathers
the world’s vintage
shall the people in the square
pause from their hurry and look to the sky
bensding their knees in prayer to cry:
“Lord, are we not worthy?”

 

                                        Part II

Chorus:

Nothing remotely suggests
what the moon has tried to conceal:
at the foot of the mountains
we found a penitent clinging to his
nightshirt, counting his fingers
and crying.
Weeping under the shadows of the moon,
but the shadows failed to hide
his tears and the moon shone
like the witch hysterical over
the waters on his cheeks.

Two Nuns:

Bend the knees before the Sanctuary
and make the voice of prayer
strike the breast to
Open, Open, Open!

The Lady:

“If anyone listens to my voice
and opens the door, I will come in
to visit him, and take my supper
with him.
Listen, you who have ears,
to the message
the Spirit has for the people!”

Kutabatu

By Rita Gadi

(This poem won the third prize in the 1977 Palanca Awards.)

I.

Nuri,
finely feathered falcon
swiftest scaler of the sky,
azure lash of wind across the valleys,
Qudarat’s carrier of messages,
forecaster, skin of kings, majestic linnet:
between the warrior and the gods,
flying being, soul of the clouds,
behold, today,
the utter ruin, the funeral choir,
the breathing, bandaged vastness:

Kutabatu.

Tierra Miserable,
landscape of corpses, humid moisture of blood,
tombless, dark, footless.

O, witness the twilight unsettling
sounds of throats, echoes of cemeteries,
color of hate and hateful
tongues lashing guns, and
swords without valor.

Yesterday,
how many more died?
Their numbers increase from zero to zero,
like a processional hurriedly dispersing
an entire race to the damning
hands of wreckage and war.
Unhappy land, adrift,
innards unleashed to the beastly
bullets tattooed upon the tendon’s
succulent earth.

Kutabatu, terrestrial paradise,
child of gold,
basin of Islam, fort of the southern island,
queen of the warrior,
goddess of dreams and royalty;
I stand back to see in your face
the chains that crown a diadem of fears
upon your brow.

The trembling metal thrust upon your throat;
your quivering waist
and curdled milk upon the nipples
of your breasts.

II.

My only territory of the substance of stone
south to south
through angry regions,
how I bleed in every ancient tree,
and hear the calling sadness of your mouth.
With blood, I know not when to leave
your moaning dawn, in grief, alone,
while the shadows of your bloodstained foliage
fume, strange enemies
that vanquished much of you
in me.

The greater pain,
dear province of the heart,
is the shape of crackling nights,
the conspiracy of infernal musings,
the devious patch on the eye of murder
and the slaughter upon the altar stone.
Surely, the gods refuse
a perforated sacrifice!

And the children, why is there
no one to spare from their lives
the interminable visions of a nameless crime?
See how they stand there
eyes as naked as their skins
searching for some location of silence
in the endless midnight of their days.
They drown in terror
and their breathing is as deep as death;
a season spilled the sticky smell of gunpowder
and froze all their tears.

III.

Today I pick you up from the river
to write this secret in your heart
and leave the ugly country
for the monsters of the mind.
It is better to love the mornings
and the valleys, and the hills,
the way they spread into the memory
of the home Bantugan built.
And safest citadel this shall be
firm as the sphinx and unmatched,
the flight of rainbows from the shadows
of the suns upon your head.
I come with fire from the river,
I give you the sea to drink,
I say to you my race remembers
the rhythm of the flower
the fingers of the moon.
I render you the colors of courage
the healing wine of life,
and dance for you, the savannah,
flesh for flesh, brother to man.

(The jungle continues its silence
the dying flowers fade
and the birds migrate with the sun;
the elemental astronomy moves on
despite the artificial season of man
and the beasts are safe from almost
everything.)

But through the cosmic circulation
of stars and suns and birds,
beneath the sterile system
that shrouds the jungle’s sleep,
a thousand eyes are roaming
like the hunter’s game for the kill,
and the passions of the animals
devour the limits of the land.

These are the spirits
whose evil incantations must disperse;
who wander in the mortuary offices
that schedule people’s wars. They plague
all types of habitation
but more aptly suit the kind
that navigates his power
by the power of the guns.

IV.

Let me call the sorcerers
to chant the evils that burn your villages
away. Kutabatu,
lift your brows against your destiny
and from the ashes of your bones
threaten the cowering madness,
beat the drums
and let the totems fall.

You cannot stop
the migration of alien tribes.
They shall dry the rivers, and unclothe the hills,
shall upset the volcanic bowels to erupt.
Leave them be and quicken to make peace.
Build no walls intended to divide,
but let their cultures honor
the territory
of your gods.
For they, too, search
a world they never had
wherefrom they came; they, too, are
fragments of your kind
and though their sounds disturb
listen with your eyes:
they have the wrinkles of your skin.

But from your nightmare into mine
I turn my back on myself.
Memory defeats the visions of my world
and all the rivers of your soul
swell into the slopes of my heart.
The handful of flesh upon my palm
hardens into steel: a thunder leaps
from finger to finger. I learn a strength:
the fury to defy the hammering nerve,
the instinct to survive, or kill.

Kutabatu,
this is the leap of the beast:
the freedom to run, or, to attack.

In every world a jungle lurks
and survival shapes
my wandering sorrow.