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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing January 2023
Ballet in the Subway Station, poems by LaWanda Walters.
Ballet in the Subway Station
I am trying to tell you how it was
but of course there are no words
for being wholly enclosed in a space
—Lisel Mueller, “Merce Cunningham and the Birds”
On the way home from the Met,
where he and his mother had watched
his wife dance—he wasn’t dancing in
the corps tonight, recovering from
a herniated disk—his wife saw
the argument through the slipped
blinds of moving subway cars.
He ran up the flights to find
some official in charge,
but no one was around,
and he ran up and down steps
to get to the other side.
A man was already down on the rail,
unconscious. No one
on the platform looked willing
to jump and so he did,
down into that pit with the third
rail. He lifted the dead
weight of a man up to
the people on the platform,
which he saw, now, was higher
than he’d thought. And heard
the oncoming train, roaring
its crescendo. And understood
the danger he was in,
how stupid to be a hero—
the way my son saved
a young woman’s small dog
from getting crushed underneath
a bus starting to roll at the light
turning green. He ran in front of the bus,
knowing the driver couldn’t see him,
jumping up to gesture, yelling, then
banging the front of the bus
with his arm, and the driver happened
to notice, the dog was safe,
my son was fine. The girl didn’t see
or thank him for saving her terrier.
A good deed but close, and he apologized
when he told me, and it felt like vertigo.
The young man in that close space
remembered he was a dancer,
and swung his leg up as if he were dancing
a grand jeté in the space between
the oncoming scream of a train
and some chalk in the air his muscles
knew from practicing with music.
Just go, said Merce Cunningham, farther.
How to Draw a Freudian Slip
The Freudian slip I’d like to draw
would be silk, like the first time a man said
I looked so good in this old silk shirt from Goodwill.
It was the most perfect gold and umber color,
its wrinkles and drapes reflecting the light.
But you could choose any color you’d prefer,
and your body would look and feel good—
check the box for “in my early thirties,” for instance—
and it doesn’t have to be a slip. It can be what you wore
one day when you didn’t know how lucky you were.
© LaWanda Walters
LaWanda Walters earned her M.F.A. from Indiana University, where she won the Academy of American Poets Prize. Her first book of poems, Light Is the Odalisque, was published in 2016 by Press 53 in its Silver Concho Poetry Series. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Georgia Review, Antioch Review, Cincinnati Review, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, The American Journal of Poetry, Laurel Review, North American Review, Southern Poetry Review, Alligator Juniper, and several anthologies, including Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century, I Wanna Be Loved by You: Poems on Marilyn Monroe, and Best American Poetry 2015. She received an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award in 2020. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, poet John Philip Drury.