September 14

Wheel

 

Isadora Duncan

whirls on the stage, her costume

flows behind her like ribbons tied to a wheel

She would revolutionize dance:  exciting

and impulsive, just as her life

captivated Europe.

 

Her best friend Mary Desti

repeats her moves like an understudy,

wears Greek tunics to dinner, gold sandals

shining beneath the flowing hem.

They are goddesses, worthy

of many suitors

 

who escort them

to fancy parties, take them

to the theatre, buy them expensive gifts.

No wonder Mary travels,

leaves her husband

in Chicago.

 

“Chicago!” Mary says,

“If Mrs. Palmer starts the season

with Duck Birgarde, well goddamned

if you don’t get Duck Birgarde

wherever you go after that!”

The day a check arrives

 

is heaven:

they leave the apartments

for a luxury suite at the Hotel Marguerite,

buy wine and caviar to go with lunch,

then wild shopping sprees

until the money

 

disappears.

No savings, no insurance,

no need to plan ahead.  Isadora

announces:  “I never wait to do

as I wish, despite the risk.”

She heads off

 

to Paris

for rehearsal, her children

sent home to Versailles with the nurse

and the chauffeur.  She plays a muse

in Tannhauser, dances a giddy

Bacchanal.

 

Elsewhere, an engine stalls.

The chauffeur steps out, forgets

to lock the wheels. The car rolls away,

rolls backwards off the road into the Seine.

The children and their nurse

are trapped inside.

 

After this, each dance

is different.  Isadora feels

her audience wants her more subdued:

tragedy should make her art turn subtle.

Instead, her moves exaggerate

as if she’s in a race.

 

If fortune is a wheel

that grinds you down beneath itself,

better to make it turn faster, raise yourself

past the pain of two drowned children.

Reach for fame, careful

not to get tangled

 

in the spokes.

Years later, as she leaves

Mary’s house she borrows a red

silk scarf, twists it tight around

her neck, sits in the passenger

side of a sports car.

 

The driver winks,

ready to flaunt his engine.  Mary

waves and watches the car charge ahead.

The scarf, draped outside the window,

catches on the front axle, curls

around the wheel.

 

[on the anniversary of Isadora Duncan’s tragic death, September 14, 1927]