Victims of the Latest Dance Craze

By Cornelius Eady b. 1954 Cornelius Eady
The streamers choking the main arteries
Of downtown.
The brass band led by a child
From the home for the handicapped.   
The old men
Showing their hair (what’s left of it),   
The buttons of their shirts Popping in time
To the salsa flooding out
Of their portable headphones,

And mothers letting their babies   
Be held by strangers.
And the bus drivers
Taping over their fare boxes   
And willing to give directions.

Is there any reason to mention   
All the drinks are on the house?   
Thick, adolescent boys
Dismantle their BB guns.
Here is the world (what’s left of it),   
In brilliant motion,
The oil slick at the curb
Danced into a thousand
Splintered steps.
The bag ladies toss off their
Garments
To reveal wings.

“This dance you do,” drawls the cop,   
“What do you call it?”
We call it scalding the air.
We call it dying with your
Shoes on.

And across the street   
The bodies of tramps   
Stumble
In a sober language.

And across the street
Shy young girls step behind   
Their nameless boyfriends,   
Twirling their skirts.

And under an archway
A delivery boy discovers
His body has learned to speak,   
And what does this street look like   
If not a runway,
A polished wood floor?

From the air,
Insects drawn by the sweat   
Alight, when possible,
On the blur
Of torsos.
It is the ride
Of their tiny lives.
The wind that burns their wings,   
The heaving, oblivious flesh,   
Mountains stuffed with panic,   
An ocean
That can’t make up its mind.   
They drop away
With the scorched taste
Of vertigo.

And under a swinging light bulb
Some children   
Invent a game
With the shadow the bulb makes,
And the beat of their hearts.
They call it dust in the mouth.
They call it horse with no rider.
They call it school with empty books.

In the next room
Their mother throws her dress away to chance.   
It drops to the floor
Like a brush sighs across a drum head,
And when she takes her lover,
What are they thinking of
If not a ballroom filled with mirrors,
A world where no one has the right
To stumble?

In a parking lot
An old man says this:
“I am a ghost dance.
I remember the way my hair felt,   
Damp with sweat and wind.

When the wind kisses the leaves, I am dancing.   
When the subway hits the third rail, I am dancing.   
When the barrel goes over Niagara Falls, I am dancing.
Music rings my bones like metal.

O, Jazz has come from heaven,” he says,
And at the z he jumps, arcing his back like a heron’s neck,   
And stands suddenly revealed
As a balance demon,
A home for
Stetson hats.

We have all caught the itch:
The neon artist
Wiring up his legs,   
The tourist couple   
Recording the twist on their
Instamatic camera,   
And in a factory,
A janitor asks his broom
For a waltz,
And he grasps it like a woman
He’d have to live another
Life to meet,
And he spins around the dust bin
And machines and thinks:
Is everybody happy?
And he spins out the side door,
Avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk,
Grinning as if he’d just received
The deepest kiss in the world.

Cornelius Eady, “Victims of the Latest Dance Craze” from Victims of the Latest Dance Craze (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1997). Copyright © 1985 by Cornelius Eady. Used with the permission of the author.

Source: Victims of the Latest Dance Craze (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1997)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Cornelius Eady b. 1954

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries, Theater & Dance

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Cornelius  Eady

Biography

Poet and cofounder of Cave Canem, Cornelius Eady has published more than half a dozen volumes of poetry, among them Victims of the Latest Dance Craze (1985), winner of the Lamont Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets; The Gathering of My Name (1991), nominated for a Pulitzer Prize; and Brutal Imagination (2001), a National Book Award finalist. Hardheaded Weather: New and Selected Poems appeared in 2008.

Brutal . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries, Theater & Dance

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.