Program for The Dance


He turned
      so fast he
the spirals of his arms
               into a slap
in the face

      he beat himself to death

he would fall
      then get right —
               back up
to some music
      he heard
               all by himself
no one to



          2. Program

We tune
      taking in hand
the remote as partner
      to the news.

We turn
      twirling the tit
of the dial      in touch to touch
      between our fingers.

We feel ourselves
      both touch and button
coming on.
     Or is it music we two

pick up step
      to      that times
happening into
      receiving line?

          3. table. . . 

Tied to a table
      top      the table tilted up
             right so
he hung by his ankles,
      he filled from
             a bucket on the floor at his head 
the cup at his feet
      overhead      with a spoon,
and when it filled,
then an attendant emptied
      cup back
             into bucket,

and he began again
      doing the senseless       hanging
             sit ups like
prayer   in the morning
             his throat cut
draining the words
      into the bucket

which he delivered
      the blood of his songs
the cup of heaven,
      his feet,

          4. By The Rivers of . . 

The boys came in the house
      home from day camp
            that summer
they were stopped
      so many feet into their running
            through the door
made to meet the guests
      required of        to sing
            what they had done today
They sang of being taught though
      they thought they knew
            already how to swim

Asked if they liked it
      the youngest explained that
            what he liked the best
was to come in
      through the top door of the water
            into the city
underneath the pool      He said
      he saw long lights
            he liked      people made funny faces
and were flying.

      I am the guest      I come in
            through the top door of the water
4 to 12   for the public
            I'm a diver
tankman to porpoises, moray eels,
      the lightning
            cloud of neon tetras at my hand
I midwife the anaconda
       — all 60
            plastic wrap egg babies —
making a living living in a vision
            of living cubes of water

door to door.

Door to door
      tank displays
            on my shift don't get visited
by out of tank appearances
      in their own likeness hiding
of transcendence and wisdom
      Rather than glory —
            tubes and cylinders trailing
old air   poor
      disguise flippers for wings
            and gifts no more

than of care and feeding.

Though I'm trained to their pH's and oxygen
      levels this
               is a lay practice of my own
care and feeding      They live in
      a timeless solution of their histories
              the living broth of their other
lives, their dead, their brothers      I find
      something familial
            familiar in these small squares
these boxes buried in the public air
      of the aquarium,
            the slave atlantic's water,

blocked each into a plot
      water is one
            with its everywhere:
the how many lost of the all of us
      brought here —
            in my wandering
going in door to door into
      the gathered ecologies keeping
            a watch out for the shark,
in what I bring     in this extra grace
      said      from some black thing
            to this fare
 — get their care and feeding

      as if some hour
            in all employment living to give it
goes to their loss
      where without that sorry
            new york minute's
pause at ourselves in this country       we lose
      our colors        the gray side of money
            that pale
of ghosts flying   folds on our chests,
      and we float up
            fattened by work
that is emptied of the gain
      back of our lives.

They come from in between things
      through      as though
            between things shines a door   we sing
of the orisha
      I hear a singing on the other side
            of a door
singing going on behind the tanks
      heard on the public floor
            people invisibly at work
on public display
      their aquarium      parading the corps
            we've decorated as gods      thousands
of years unseen

that morning we woke when we had lost
      the attempt all our supplies everything
            but our lives      washed down
the river            left in a puddle
      a fish we only had to dish up
            out of its own
carapace      a shelled catfish
      Plecostomus      and here it was
            I see now      recognize
one of my samples I care for
      in this exhibit
            all that kept me

alive 'til we reached a village.

      Come back in from my own
            expeditions out      I know
the diving aboard landing of
      the plane
            made into the glittering night waters
that are
      the city      home

searching the long waving light refraction
      for its drawing of
            that African's face.

But the boys             they'll grow up
      in what only is a difference
            in this country      as if
starting the exhibit at a different door
      changed the subject:
            their mother white like many's
somewhere in our people here,
      their African
            black like a many's in
our American   peoples)
      father came over
            long after

the middle passage on a plane
      to school
            A whole new subject here.
But we sit down

      to Miles to Louis Armstrong
            over dinner
and later a little Lou Donaldson
      gets us
            dancing      our stuff.

          5. seat

The erased unshined polish
      of a board
            that is a mind
      nor chaired into a seat
            of any solving,
gray with no answers

the slate smoothness of the cities' street

That moving standing still
      we learn
            that rest is hanging on      no seat
keeping the strap
      and loop's flow open
            from around your neck
your foot out of the trap

The loss of grace complaint
      forgets we find footing
            accomplishment in that

          6. Dance, for the Balance of New Mexico

We had driven until the land rover was in danger
of never being upright again at this height.

The cloud came through the window on the driver
side and out the passenger and stopped,

its center on the seat between.

To go further would have been to carry
black clown from Second Mesa's Butterfly Dance,

his foggy, white stripes      floating ash
across the blackened rocks

naked from a fire        his hardened body

We could hear the land rover strain,   his screaming
laughter just before he'd leap through a complete

standing somersault, and we would halt
and float the truck for that moment he was air

in a sweated cloud of fear until he touched
the balance to the ground and put us down.

          7. Flamenco Goyasques

We all have
          women we were born of

We all were dragged out &
            lined up against the sky

Know that
              Somebody here stood beside you

You put up your hands & you die

. . . . . . . . . . . . 

Just in . . . 
Just in word.


of navigational

Ed Roberson, "Program for The Dance" from Just In: Word of Navigational Challenges: New and Selected Works. Copyright © 1998 by Ed Roberson. Reprinted by permission of Ed Roberson.
Source: Just In: Word of Navigational Challenges (Talisman House, 1998)
More Poems by Ed Roberson