Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Street Dance, 1959"


A girl is receiving a tiara
on the bandstand in the middle of town,
that summer night. She leans her head
forward, politely smiles.
The points jab the skin behind her ears.
Seven girls in white dresses turn
in the hot August night. They have pink baby
roses in their hands. She has a whole paper bouquet,
a tiara of glass rubies, shiny black slippers.

I am eight years old.
My parents dance together
on the other side of the knotted rope.
“Have fun,” my mother says, leaning over,
stroking my face with her fingertips.
“Don’t wander off.” My brother
pulls on my hand to dance. The children dance

like children, alone or by twos and threes,
scuffing the dust, stomping
around and around the barricade.
The girl on the bandstand smiles
for the Tribune photographer
and the lights her father aims upward.
Seven white girls in starched dresses
revolve around her stillness. A man
in a black suit speaks the names
into a black microphone; the syllables
rebound, distorting in the air, dispersed
in silent alleyways behind the buildings.

My brother comes and stands near me,
shy and insistent. We hold hands and stare upward.
Over the hot pavement, music scratches,
aimed from big steel speakers above our heads.
I can’t tell what they are singing; we
can’t make it out, though we push our heads out,
poking up our chins to listen, and are held there.

Now the streets are empty.
They glare sheer black in orbits surrounding
the lighted square. It spins and spins;
faster, one step, and I am lost.
I have wandered off, and in the secret of time
this happiness lies safe, still untouched,
and in it we remain
those children. The pale lights, the press
of bodies in a crowd, the night-sultry air,
reach me, beyond coercion, in the sweetness
of absolute privilege. I look up
at girls like flowers, carnations
with twiggy stems and poufy skirts, all turning
around the one who stands there still.

To see her is to enter the future
obliquely, to be taller, smooth and glowing,
to know the quietness of standing on a stage with
flowers. The speaker’s rasp, the gesturing
black-coated man pushing her forward carefully,
mastering, steering narrow shoulders, the lights
above the wooden stage, all these push back
time, pressing this into focus, clean and hard.

My brother stands happy beside me,
singing to himself. He is five. The sweetness
is being pressed out of him by steady
care and correction; his sweet joy
is being broken so he may harden,
and set into a shape. He is all green and open
with no secret place to hide his hope,
his baby joy; it shows all over him
and is being wrung and rubbed
like a stain gotten out. He will not wander
but stand there under the lights not seeing
what shimmers all around him.
He will stand under the lights, ready to clap
his hands and be pleased, to dance around
in a circle, not knowing he shines
like a military objective in the night.

: Cynthia Huntington, We Have Gone to the Beach (1996)

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