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Excerpts

LANDSCAPE OF THE MIND

Wit-struck, the mind takes a stride off the side of its boat,
the Tempus Fugit. Don’t look down, says the divemaster.
Watch the horizon. Eight hours into this 12-hour drive,
It’s all horizon, geological forms that undulate, thrust,
and flatten as they did when this was a nameless stretch
of seabed. Cholla pointed back to bottle sponges,
tumbleweed, corals, lavender, and plankton brushed
mesa tops. This submersible I’m driving, finless, on I-40
is an egg-laying 45-foot marine lizard’s hallucination.

As she is mine, tired from steering only forward. Doing
nothing, the mind invents, populates its landscape out of
its briny past. Even when there’s no wind, currents carry
the remnants of old storms. Wreckage scoots me a little
toward a trench. Above, the blue surface, where foam rolls
spray and spindrift, breakers spill, darkening cumulus.
The evening rain’s begun. Eighteen-wheelers light up;
RVs fishtail in their wake; I turn on my headlights. White-
knuckled, off cruise control, don’t stop. At the critical depth,
diver, by breathing you can maintain neutral buoyancy.

WHOSE EXPECTATION

Exhibition of a Rhinoceros at Venice (1751)

Commissioned to paint her in situ, Pietro Longhi is sketching
downstage the sturdy Indian Clara: her dimpled vertical folds,
her riveted armor of skin. Wheat straw’s in a loose pile,
a few gold shafts in her mouth as if birdlike she’s making
a nest that edges off the frame; piling out the other end,
a mound of offal like loaves city birds expect to pick through
after the show. Brought to entertain the borghese of Venice,
she’s a curiosity in an age of curios, entitled ladies in pleats
and dominoes, tricorn hats. Clara’s horn detached; in his right
hand, her keeper Douwemont Van der Meer waves it and a whip,
a relic and threat in a city awash in Christian body parts.

It’s carnivale when citizens demand what’s unexpected.
Patrons pay artists to render a record shaping what
later they cannot believe they saw. All Clara’s years,
watched and crated, she’s made her expectations clear.
Venetians in galleries with elegant disgust regard how
she enjoys what she is given, her usual post-show meal:
oranges, tobacco, a bottomless bucket of warm Dutch beer.

NOT QUITTING ADULT TAP

The proper subject of dance is movement. —Joan Acocella

When the studio texted her I’d quit, my teacher leapt to her feet.
I’d just finished dinner with plenty of wine, settled down reading
that reading contracted our world: from audition to abstraction,
onto the page. How the alphabet focused perception from ear
to eye, so the self had new fixed boundaries, withdrawn
to the literal private, off-stage. Dark and cold and almost time

for the class I’d just quit, the doorbell rang. My God, my teacher!
Said she’d choreographed an old tap routine revamped
for me. Her plan, to keep it simple, counterpoint to mine. She knew,
it’s true, I’m crazy for percussion, for soft shoe and classic sounds
of brush against, click among confident women who tap, but

tell that to this mind perceiving through ears that only half-hear,
to a body tethered by decades, to shuffle-ball-change, to cramp-
roll and pullback and peridamndiddle. I’ve stood at the barre, back
to the wall of blabbermouth mirrors. Prompts return to the ear
through the feet, ankles wake up, tight pelvic sockets shriek loose.
I tell myself I can. Or could. Or quit.

She paces, a roll call on my porch, castanet car keys, ready to rumble.
Basic steps keep me upright in motion. The heart itself pumps at
a don’t-stop rhythm. I tap into that, eyes closed, strap on my character
shoes without the words—grab-off, chasse, and whatever’s next
in the sequence that trips me up. When I try to read the story I’m in,
I don’t want to know how it ends. So, listen—I’m buckling

myself into her car. The time-step begins on the last beat
of what might be, okay, the next-to-last step.