Vasilis Manousakis – Tango lessons

Manousakis LE P&W 5 Nov-Dec 2023

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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Five Nov-Dec 2023.

Tango lessons, poems by Vasilis Manousakis.

There is a place in Manhattan where people used to go dancing. It is one of those bars owned by someone from Santo Domingo or Puerto Rico and it is so cool that at Dolores bar all New York hangs out. Businessmen and women, leaving the boring café of their company for a drink there and students of all nationalities, who want to learn the secrets of tango, to impress a boy or a girl back home. Because, most importantly, at Dolores we find a dance school. Not like the others where you wear your special clothes and shoes, and you learn step by step the sterile moves to brag in some graduation party or a class reunion twenty years later. At Dolores you were learning there, on stage, among the tables, the smell of spilt beer and grease coming from the kitchen, smoke and the growling of a loser who missed the train of life. At Dolores, you went in, shouted what kind of beer you wanted, even though they all tasted the same, and then you sat and waited to be chosen by one of the women and men, who would be your instructors that night, or any night, if you could handle it or if they weren’t taken. They made you stand up with a touch on the shoulder and they grabbed you, even by your ass, to dance you graciously to Argentina, Spain or wherever else they like tango and make you forget you were in New York, nose deep in documents, student papers, in a kitchen, a vagina, a dick or in the dumpster of your mind.

The evening I ended up at Dolores, I’d had three beers with a colleague at lunch, marked plagiarized assignments, met my new colleague, stuck in traffic and had decided three times to turn back. I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I met Pilar. I’m glad I moved on with my life dancing. Because Pilar was not just a dancer, she was a hurricane… Sweeping and always unreachable, she whispered in your ear while you were dancing, and she took your heart and mind. If you were lucky, you got a nice word, but if you dared to speak, she was gone as if she never existed. She dumped you there on the makeshift stage and you wouldn’t see her again all night. The only time I told her she was a good dancer, I was left there pretending to be a scarecrow with my arms outstretched to scare the crows, bad luck, and my negative thoughts away.

I had so many things to say to Pilar, but my words were always left hanging, since I didn’t want her to go. I didn’t care about tango. What would I do with it in class anyway? I would only stir a bored student from their sleep. No point. The time I made love with my body had passed. Now the mind was prevailing. Love is only the extension of your thoughts anyway. The freer they are, the bigger the flame in your body. Just like Pilar. Just like her dancing. Just like me letting go of myself in her hands to teach me how to tango. To teach me how to live, I would repeat to my car’s mirror, as I was driving away from Dolores. These are the things I would say to her if I could speak, but I dared not to. Instead, I would shut my eyes among the chairs and the stretched-out legs and the voices of those who were looking. She would fly and I would drag my two left feet on the floor below. Yes, Pilar was not for the faint-hearted.

After a while, she wasn’t touching me on the shoulder, when I walked in. There was no need. She would appear before me like a mirage and when the music stopped, she disappeared in darkness as if she never was, leaving me stranded and thirsty for something vague, only it wasn’t water or beer.

You needed guts to love Pilar. And alcohol. But, mainly, guts. As is natural for strong and independent women. As is natural for those who teach you you exist. We never ended up in bed with Pilar. I never talked to her to imply it anyway. She would hold my hand tight, and I received blood, heart, voice, light through the veins visible in her white hands. There, for an hour every evening, for three months. At Dolores bar. Which doesn’t exist anymore. Burnt one afternoon due to a kitchen fire.

I took Kathryn to that neighborhood one night in our tenth anniversary. Pilar taught me how to love and be a good partner, how could I not to?

© Vasilis Manousakis

Dr. Vasilis Manousakis is a short story writer, poet, and translator, whose work has appeared in New American Writing, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Barcelona Ink, Parentheses, and Drunken Boat, among others. He writes reviews and translates poetry and short stories for literary magazines and e-zines. He has been one of the founding members of Bonsai Stories, the blog directly linked to Planodion literary magazine. The blog is dedicated to flash fiction and work from many well-known writers from Greece, the United States, and other countries has appeared there. These flash stories have been collected in two printed volumes so far, and a special tribute to 9/11 stories has appeared in a third volume, in which Vasilis was on the editorial committee. He holds a Ph.D. in Contemporary American Poetry and currently teaches creative writing, modern poetry, short fiction and audiovisual translation.  He is a faculty member of the New York Writers’ Workshop and a writing instructor at Scribophile. His focus on the human thought and behavior in his writings has led him to a Master’s Program in Mental Health Counseling, and he holds individual and group sessions with clients, specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy and narrative therapy

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