Choosing Performances

As she stepped from the limousine   
that had brought her from the Cape Town
airport to the hotel, the state-aligned police              
made a barricade of bulky arms, interlocked  

to keep the mixed and boisterous crowds
from pressing too close to the ballerina,
hailed by some for her limpid arabesques,
spell-binding: from abroad.
                                                      But one man,
who later said he had walked from Nyanga,    
a black shanty township, many miles distant,
pressed his way forward to speak as she passed
towards the canopied entry. 

                                                      “I have come  
to watch you dance between the rain drops.”

She smiled. (That day the sun still shone.)
Though shoved back by police, he smiled in return,

 and then, though footsore, accepted
what she spoke next:
                                                      “I have come
to this city, in person,                                          
to announce
that I am cancelling                            
all my performances.
Your great man Nelson
Mandela remains
imprisoned on Robben
Island, on his knees
breaking stone”

(not like that other, the world’s legend, who danced             
in Cape Town, traversing the stage en pointe,   
and later for General Pinochet, and then                                
for President Marcos, Imelda his wife---
she of the shoes, the three thousand pair).


Coming to Voice


Think how blood thinks its passages
through the body, knows it’s pumped to course
through channels familiar, hundreds
of miles---sometimes allowed to reroute

but never free to break restraints
unless the body’s damaged (pierced
or shot, clubbed brutishly). It’s then
the phrases, sentences ooze out

the tongues thick lava, in spitfire
babble more quiet than a child’s,
as old-fashioned letters criss-crossed,
illegible. With this fate chanced,            

surprised by the smart of live air
smiting fast and so soon (at all),
it speaks aloud through the new mouth
of wound, gash or small gape, an eye

that spies inside, though occluded,
our bodies’ common secrecies.



What did the bloods of the dying
speak when they were ambushed by trick
at Wounded Knee?---when the Negroes
of East Saint Louis suffered killer white
rampage, their black red bloods crying
to glimpse strange sky, or when that man

took at last the assassin’s shot
there (the Lorraine Motel), his blood
on that balcony speaking calm
through his doom a decade foreknown,
his tongue now a sheen of his flame,
soon the dark char of his justice.    

Who attended these bloods’ last speech?
Some applauded; others tarried
to witness the dwindled eddies
of truth spilled against power. Sharp eyes
might from those hidden mouths hear griefs
for clamors hushed, equal weights trashed. 

Shed, or cased in veins, the blood’s red,
blue blood a fancy of privilege.
Not black blood’s gloom, nor the black stain
of miscegenation can dark
the red; rape never tints blood’s hue.
Cut any skin (any color),

look. Metaphors that fib too much
blood can’t absorb, nor words whose rhymes
make muddles (semen, skin). Only
when blood’s revealed to naked air
does it go mute, purpling brown
as it scabs in strange weather, crusts.




Daniel Harris

Issue 17 • Spring 2016