HELEN: TANZANIA DRESSAGE
for Helen Tyrrell
1. The path misbehaves at the oasis,
a long way from the mirrored halls
of lEcole Vienna where a young woman
put Lippizan stallions through flying paces.
A vessel tumbles from her head
and the Tanzanian children laugh.
She has eight years to perfect this skill,
carrying water back to the cooking pots.
Water outwits the thirsty African earth
in a merry chase to the river,
becomes a dusty mercurial snake
seeking the source of the Nile,
finds wings, transcends air.
Lakes hunger for the sky,
swimming stars take flight,
approach the caravan of the storm,
& the shimmering sands of Zanzibar
harbor the illusion of water.
Billowing clouds return to the Serengeti
where riderless horses solemnly waltz
against the feast of sky.
Hooves against stone
Sidestep to go forward.
Passage on the diagonal.
Once the ballet of dressage
the lunge, the cabriolet
were movements for the dance of war.
2. Kirk screws on the legs of the piano,
wheels it into the concert hall.
Frees his music from the belly
of the wooden horse for this Helen, mother
of orphans whose mothers abandoned them.
His arms are snowfields,
an avalanche of notes crescendo
under the equatorial reign
of watermusic to slake us.
The ceiling of the sky
is crowned with thorns.
On the slopes of Kilimanjaro
the leopard, asleep, dreams
the eland is his lover.
Take Two notes
Once I stood in the palace arena,
a frieze of horses danced on snowfields of marble.
An angry vortex of traffic encircled me and the horse.
Mad Ivans domes writhed in the blizzard.
I thought of Nerudas poem of horses in snow
how they were malleable like bread, the staff of life
straining dappled haunches in the arena.
Always the horses I patted as a child haunted me.
Lippizanners turning white with the wisdom of age.
Or was it war; their dance is the art of war.
Bucephalus & Alexander circling the shadows.
I couldnt take my eyes off those horses
waltzing in San Francisco, Vienna and Budapest.
I have seen the ones who no longer care to dance,
lugging tourists from cathedral to plaza on crippled legs.
I patted one sorry nag, the Viennese coachman snarled,
begrudging us the small creature comfort.
Claudia intervened, saying Its all right. She knows horses.
But the horse was too weary to even respond
until distant music caught its eara minute flicker of life.
In front of the statue of the Plague,
of the Holocaust, and cathedrals of venerable age,
I have seen them listening to their own kind of music,
briskly trotting the cobbled streets.
I worry about their legs. Shin splints.
This rough magic. In Hungary where no one
can afford to keep the dancing horses,
the fall of communism has reduced them to tzigani
gypsys conning coins from tourists.
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Download a musical excerpt from Helen: Tanzania Dresságe (mp3 format).
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Updated: January 25, 2001 (KB)
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