Poetry month Day 3

WordxWord’s third prompt for its 30/30 poetry challenge, a poem a day for 30 days, is “trail mix” — and that took me unexpectedly to memories of my days … or nights … in the newsroom.

Some nights I ate peanuts and raisins
and chocolate chips at my desk
at 3 a.m., in the corner
by the tall mill window
after the night paginators
laid their type and went home.
The sports guys took their last calls,
the press rolled two floors down
and the guard, looking through the door
turned off my light by mistake.

Some nights I worked alone
between the late-night layout
and the early morning stir
when drivers with paper routes
came to collect their bundles.
Some nights went on past counting.
The dark outside the window,
the light by the loading dock
brushing the empty tarmac,
and I’d lean into the screen
of a 1998 Mac —
all night with a magazine.

I was filling an empty template
with salamanders and fairy shrimp,
children in rubber boots
at the edges of vernal pools,
a photographer from New York
who left Sweden in World War II
to swirl the spines of wentletrap shells
on the walls of the local museum,
a dancer of bharata natyam
improvising to a love poem.

Wandering in stories
I had edited in the morning —
She played the Vina, a stringed
instrument with a rounded body,
like a lute with a straight neck.
The sound of the strings may come
from arrow leaving a bow.
— I rubbed my neck and held on
to the sound of chords and the taste
of chocolate and salt and cold coffee.

With a few words in newsprint
and an archive of local photographs,
how can I make you see
the straight-backed woman sitting
cross-legged on the edge of the stage
with the mountain behind her
and the dancer arching his feet?

How can I give you the the feel
of hands on the neck of a vina,
and his body curved and supple,
as I feel it sitting here
alone in an empty mill …
Some nights I looked up at the window
to see the glow in the clouds
outpacing the lights in the lot.

And I walked out onto the tarmac
into the early morning
and breathed the wind off the ridges,
and the tremble of rushing sound
that grew as I walked across
became the sound of the mill race
when the river ran spring high.


NaPoWriMo‘s is a fan letter, and I’m answering that one too. Here is a tribute to Shantala Shivalingappa, a Madras dancer in the Kuchipudi style, and to Tallapaka Annamacharya, the poet who inspired one of the dances I saw her perform; he composed some 36,000 songs in Southern India in the 15th-century, in Telugu, a language close to Sanskrit.

Shantala Shivalingappa performs Kuchipudi, a style of Indian dance. Photo by Hector Perez
Photo by Hector Perez

Shantala Shivalingappa performs Kuchipudi, a style of Indian dance. Press photo courtesy of Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival

Late February, the snow crusted knee-deep
and in this college theater a woman
dances in deep, soft marigold yellow.
Rapid drum beats in a low thrum,
flute notes rising, spinning, falling
and a man sings tenor as she flexes
fingertips and the small of her back.
In her shoulders the strength of a woman deceived,
turning from a man’s coaxing hands —
She is dancing a poem 600 years old,
a poem lost for centuries and found
again on bronze in a temple room.
She holds in her body the living sound
of a man, a musician wrestling with gods
and writing in a woman’s voice
why should a body not desire?
She dances, and he is there in her hands
and the humerous sally of her eyes —
the smell of his sweat, lamp oil and wick,
the cant of light trousers on muscled calves
like grass on his skin, a window open
as he writes, the sound of paper
sheets brushing sheets on a warm
night and the breath of the rain beginning —
why should a mind accept any bounds?
She dances. When the music stills
I am shaking, and in the cold night
clear air moves on the hillsides
down bare slopes, between the trees.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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