Eleanor Johnson – Ballet Ekphrasis

Eleanor Johnson“Ballet Ekphrasis”


Small woman
strong and fast
and I mean
fast and in black
her arms
flashes and arcs
I have never seen
fast ballet
a treason against Ballanchine
there I was
not breathing
it was too fast
to time my air to.

The pas de deux
were impossibility together
all folding together, one always
stiff and strong and
pliant and broken:
iridescence born of rubbing.

Three dancers, man, woman, the floor,
a constantly shifting burial mound,
bodies thrown down,
who was earth
who was body
who was digger
who was mourner:
an accident of dying motion,
constantly but with decelerations.

Complicating matters, they were also making love.

My darling, I felt your absense
Keenly, folding me up:
the ballet,
though impossible
in its sepulchral elegance,
was not all it could have been,
in your absence.


There was something
in the ballet like Spanish moss:
I know you know—being from the South,
being from drinking Maker’s, being from open vowels,
being from people, being from—
what I mean.

I have been unable to put the dance from my mind,
a thin flame running under my
distraction, which, as you know, my friend,
has been mighty lately, lifting like a bird
from a high wire by a surge: thin fire, a crisp
of wings, then nothing til it lands again:

Second movement, Mozart Piano Concerto.
I don’t remember which one, my memory.

Ballet asks a particular ekphrasis,
is a virus, dead unless hosted.

Second movement, Mozart Piano Concerto

and they were all of motion, we of voyeur.
They faced each other, a wreath of muscle,
arms clasped in a ring—I thought of the plague years—
their bodies excluded us—we were the unfavored
children—they the beautiful.
She fell, and it was meant,
they all fell slightly with her,
and that is all the difference:
the falling an event, a flow of intent.

Second movement, Mozart Piano Concerto

The circle shed one dancer after another,
a windmill shedding blades in a light breeze.

You make me make things.

Remember how the dancers lay on their backs
their arms up like calla lilies waving at the sky?
It was a dance at death,
and we were innocents at the edge
of a field of lilies?
It was tonic as Madeleines, made me remember
how this all will have been a picnic
plunked on a field of calla lilies
who stretch up things under the earth:
I like how the dancers made death seem floral.

return to SHAMPOO 34