Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Poem: Dancers

Dorothea and Francesca, by Cecilia Beaux, 1898

inspired by the painting "Dorothea and Francesca"
by Cecilia Beaux

I am dancing like that.
I am there
in the pink satin folds
of their blousing
though not the blouse or skirt
but riding them
as a cork
rides waves
just dipped under the silk.
I am the curl
of the mother’s hair
as if I were smoke
and she the fire.
I am the rubbed flower
their shoes
point to outside the frame,
fragrance alone.
I am the rain
outside the house,
my drops
traipsing down
inside the silver of each
blade of grass,
I am dancing like that.

Listen to a podcast of this poem here.


Brendan said...

And thus are we. So many deft gossamers here, which is I'm sure the point -- between breath and sail, a soft, delicate weave of air. And it's amazing how much more powerful such grace is than, say, clout. Sigh. - Brendan

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

Mother-daughter dances are so much on your mind and heart and in your writing of late. I was not familiar with this painting or artist — quite lovely and your poem helps bring it to life. The viewer's eyes dance from the faces to hands to feet, all so expressively rendered by Cecilia Beaux and set to music by you.

Ruth said...

Brendan, thank you for your good read and kind comments. I am awfully drawn to paintings like this, I can't deny it. But I know nothing of that life, and I can't say how I'd feel living it, with the privileges of it. Yet the moment here strikes me so tenderly. How do I put myself into it? It is not mine, and yet it is mine. All is mine in some way. What is the way? I think that's our work: to find out.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, just before you commented I almost changed 'mother's' to 'woman's' because I am pretty sure these two dancers are probably sisters, and not mother and daughter. But your lovely comment attached me to the realization that they are mother and daughter, for me.

It's such an oddity, I think, how long it takes for human children to grow into adulthood, unlike all other animals, I think. There are so many teachers in their lives, so many mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles and aunts. And grandmothers. :-)

I just adore this moment in the painting, the tenderness of relationship, of the elder teaching the younger. But what, we might also ask, will the younger teach the elder?

missing moments said...

the image feels like sisters ...and your words melting into their folds

Maureen said...

Your lovely evocative images contrast with that single word "imperceptible" that you also end-stop before taking up once again the ethereal feeling in the refrain "I am dancing like that".

Jeanie said...

This is simply beautiful, Ruth. What a perfect painting for inspiration!

Pat said...

The imagery just explodes off the page with your beautiful words.

rosaria said...

Who wouldn't be joining in this dance? The gestures are inviting, gently nudging an imitation.

steven said...

it's magical to be woven through words into the dance that moves from the moment of mother and daughter (because i too notice the mother and daughter braiding), to the becoming of the wholeness extrinsic to and yet entirely carded into the braids. "i am the rain . . .traipsing down inside the silver of each blade of grass, imperceptible. i am dancing like that." oh my ruth. oh my. that is beautiful. steven

Miss Jane said...

Fantastic. I am anxious to hear your podcast of this.
What I like is that you take this image and go outside of it, literally, to become the rain outside traipsing (perfect word choice!) down the silver of each blade of grass.
Wonderful stuff. Thank you.

Miss Jane said...

OH! and the rubbed flower!

I think I plow through reading poems online and don't savor them. Your podcast made me appreciate this more. I love the way you read. Your voice has a "girl" quality to it, You sound so fresh and innocent, yet you read with a steady and careful enunciation that grounds your words in a knowing confidence. Lovely.

Arti said...

What a surprising twist, from the dancers to the rain. And yes, what you've etched with words brings back the lyrics of my favorite tune, Simon and Garfunkel's Kathy's Song:
"I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls
Soft and warm continuing
Tapping on my roof and walls."
Thanks for the experience, Ruth, in listening to your voice reading the words, like hearing raindrops softly tapping on my roof and walls.

Anonymous said...

I am dancing with you and your compelling ( gripping ? ) words, Ruth.

João said...


Susan said...

Absolutely gorgeous painting! I really must get to the Art Institute someday.

I love how you danced all around the subject of dancing. When I first saw the picture, my initial thought was, this is how you and Lesley danced when she was a child, to make up for the non-dancing of your own childhood. I always danced with my children, whether they liked it or not. :)

hedgewitch said...

I've always felt a deep attraction to those types of costumes, so much so I've felt the ghosts of the skirts bell around me at times. Your poem so perfectly illustrates that almost mystical feeling of kinship we can experience with what I feel has to be some kind of cellular memory of our forebears. After all,women wore skirts like that, and danced like that, for many more generations than they have dressed as we do.

Regardless of that side of it all, your poem is a delight in the sheer writing of it. I enjoyed it's meditative, other-worldly mood very much.

Marcie said...

And - I can somehow feel them dancing. Mother and daughter. Simply beautiful!

Mark Kerstetter said...

The end of your poem - that imperceptible dancing - is gorgeous (it's the way many of us dance).

All good paintings have a rhythm. Looking at this one my eye kept going up and down, up and down, just as you write: "as a cork rides waves."

Margaret said...

To want to reside so closely to someone as that, to gently be a part of their movements... I see my youngest daughter loving her little brother that way. She watches him, try to lightly reach out and touch him when he is just concentrating on a small thing like a book. It is funny to watch him sidle away, actually push a little hand/arm out to stop her from getting closer. LOL

But there are times, he clasps her hand and copies her, needs her comforting. This is probably two sisters, but the "motherly" type of love is very evident. I think that our minds are always with our children, and I'd like to think our love surrounds (dances around) them like a beloved fragrance.

Amy@Souldipper said...

If I could dance so divinely as this, what would possess me to ever rest?

erin said...

it seems here you are living inside of the gaps. yes, dancing everywhere except inside the shoes. who needs shoes to dance? or feet?

beautiful writing, ruth.


Ruth said...

Reena, thanks for reading, and contemplating this beautiful painting with me.

Ruth said...

Maureen, yes, it's about perceiving what is imperceptible, isn't it. That's what I want to do in this life.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, thanks for that. I'm rather stunned that this is another beautiful painting at the Art Institute that I have not seen in person. I think I need to attend to the American wing next visit. August, I think!

Ruth said...

Pat, oh thanks, I love your response.

Ruth said...

Rosaria, it's quite lovely, isn't it?

Ruth said...

Thank you, Steven. I find this to be a creative and very appealing way to paint a portrait, capturing a moment that conveys so much between these two.

Peter said...

A beautiful painting by a very gifted (portrait) painter! … inspiring an inspired poet !

Ruth said...

Miss Jane, thank you for your attention here, for reading and listening, and for your kind words. I agree with you that listening to poetry makes it live, and my mind connects with it more readily, as does my heart.

Ruth said...

Arti, thank you for feeling that from my poem, taking what was in my imagination, into yours.

Ruth said...

Leena, my sweet dancing friend, thank you.

Ruth said...


Ruth said...

Susie, why don't we meet up in Chicago next summer (2012)??

I so love that image of your dancing with your children. Love it. Yes, I did dance with mine too, though I myself was only learning to dance too.

I'd like you to show me some grandmother dances please.

Ruth said...

Hedge, I love thinking about 'cellular memory' that you invoke in your comment. I was talking with Inge last night, and I suddenly realized that all the generations of women represent no difference.

What I said in my comment to Brendan that felt confessional was after reading about Ceclia Beaux, who was privileged and painted portraits of wealthy people. Something in that put me off, and I was going to find another piece of art to write from. But I couldn't leave this painting of hers, no doubt because of that 'mystical kinship' you speak of. Yes, we are connected with all women, and I too am very drawn to those belling skirts, and the dancing, and the sheer beauty of it. (How lovely to feel them like ghosts.) And so what if they are wealthy? Is there not also beauty in their life, and would I not live it if I could? If only we all could understand the privilege of living, and be able to dance like this. There are many kinds of poverty, and one is being constrained so as not to be able to dance. Coming into freedom, out of a religious background where dancing was prohibited, I feel extraordinary connection with this painting.

Thank you so much for your kind words.

Ruth said...

(Hedge, I love your piece today, "I cry for what I've broken / and what has broken me." Since it is comment-free there today, I want to mention it here. It is touching, and whispers of pain. I hope all is well.)

Ruth said...

Thank you, Marcie. Imagine being able to paint like this.

Ruth said...

Mark, thanks for your close attention to my poem, and to the painting. It is a privilege to witness these expressions of what is inside our life, and I always sense that you take it very seriously.

Ruth said...

Oh Margaret, the image of your daughter and her little brother is powerful and tender. I love the sometimes turning away of your son, and the sometimes seeking help. It's all part of growing up. Then your image of dancing around our children like a 'beloved fragrance' is a comfort to me at this moment when mine are very far away. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Amy, oh but you dance like this.

Ruth said...

Erin, thank you.

It is wonderful and freeing to seek out what is me in everything. It sounds egocentric, but I think in the end this is all we do in life. You help me step outside the frame, the ways I've been constrained with thought, language and feeling. I so appreciate that, friend.

Ruth said...

Merci, Peter! Beaux was slightly behind Mary Cassatt, another wonderful American painter who has beautiful paintings at the Art Institute. I hope one day you can come to Chicago, and I can meet you there. I will show you the America Windows by Marc Chagall. It will be an international moment. :-)

Susan said...

Okay. :)

Oliag said...

I immediately thought "sisters" when I first saw the painting...

Love this thinking about what those toes are pointing towards...

Loring Wirbel said...

The podcast is a necessary adjunct, as this poem has such an important chant, a prayer almost, love it.

Marja said...


Ginnie said...

Actually, to dance IN the rain...that would be heaven. :)