December 24 is not really just Christmas Eve to me. Yes, there were holiday traditions, but they were mixed with the traditions of my grandmother’s birthday. My grandma loved her birthday. It was the one day out of the year that she was surrounded by all the individuals she loved and she loved that more than anything. The Christmas Eves of my childhood were half split between the birthday cake of Jesus at church and my grandma’s birthday cake. It’s a day I miss her on more than any other. As I took a long walk today thinking about what I might post, I went through happy poems, poems about Christmas, poems about loss. Then I came across this poem I wrote about dancing. I feel like I must have been a dancer in another life. I write about them often in poems, in short stories. I love to watch them. I often envy them. One of the things my grandmother passed down was a love of dance. She used to tell me stories of going dancing when she was younger. There was not a wedding she was at, where she was not on the dance floor. The last few years of my grandmother’s life, a stroke trapped her inside her body; however, she was so determined to move. I think until her very last breath, she was convinced and determined to dance again. I think that says so much about what an incredible human being she was and just how much she loved life. Life definitely misses her. The poem I chose I wrote after viewing a photograph of a young dancer watching an older woman dance. It just felt right today as a celebration to the incredible woman I got to call ‘grandma.’
You see her & it might as well be a film projection.
Old woman, white buttermilk hair, unable to walk.
We are always seeking new things, new ways to love,
New clothes to wear, new sounds that excite us.
Perhaps, the bravest thing a soul does is grow old.
We all age, but none know the grit incarnate of aging
When your life has been centered on movement.
To dance is to be out of yourself. Slow dances,
Unplanned, allow bodies to whisper beautiful silences to one another.
Those who have danced throughout our lives know
It’s ripped off bandages, it’s proved no one needs to save us,
It’s asked someone to be in the middle of the room with us
And be absolutely human. It’s torn us from rage
And whispered truths the mouth could not say,
“I’ve hurt you.” “I love you.” “You could never be that broken.”
There’s a picture of an elderly ballerina watching a strong, limber
Ballerina practice in a dusty old dance space. The young ballerina
Almost appears unaware of the presence of the old ballerina.
Perhaps when we are young we are incapable of seeing what we might become.
There is beauty in the young ballerina’s blindness to caution,
Yet the allure of an old dancer is the wonder of a lived-in body,
The subtlety, grace and patience it holds within tendons and bones.
The old dancer plays the instrument she is. The young
Is forced to play to vanity, to what people want to applaud to.
To age we all learn this but none better than the dancer,
Whose life has been so connected to the body.
I love watching old dancers as there is the urgency and passion,
That never leave a dancer’s body, but then add in the letting go.
The feet do as the ears hear, and in every dance
There is something being said. Perhaps, this is why the image
Of finding love, beauty, strength, across a dance floor endures,
It’s knowing the true rhythm of the heart. This poem
Will be left behind, with books, photographs, songs.
In dancing, nothing is. There is just that moment.
It opens like a bud for one performance of a lifetime,
Then closes. If you miss it,
There is not a chance to witness that bud again.
It is the sculpture created and smashed.
It is in dancing we seduce ourselves and each other.
As I stare at the old woman in the picture,
I don’t see broken dreams or anger.
I see a woman that knows only a heart terrified of breaking
Has never danced. The more we dance,
The braver our hearts become