Dancing With Orion


“When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that You have established, what am I that you are mindful of me?” — Psalm 8:4

At twelve, she saw so little and so much
in seven stars: two hands and feet, a belt,
a man — a dancer close enough to touch
in front of drawn black curtains, soft as felt.
She dreamed him laughing, hidden from her sight
then leaping out and whirling her to sleep.
To find him took all terror out of night
though sometimes, unaccountably, she’d weep
beneath his gaze. He was her secret friend
of darkness, holding all the sparkling pain
and aching bliss she couldn’t comprehend.
At Halloween, she wound electric skeins
of tangled lights around her hips and twirled:
a shy star-dancer loosed upon the world.

Shy in her dance she danced, set loose,
the world gone dizzy. Lopsided lights slipped down
her hips, she spun in awkward circles round
Orion: source-flame to the comets curled
around her wrists. She was his neophyte,
girl hunter seeking glory, leaping streams
of ancient suns and bursting fiery seams
that stitch and tie the sky-dark whole. What night
could hold its shape for long against such dance?
The stars she slung were spinning out of orbit;
Earth revolved beneath her stamping feet.
Orion slipped by steps down the expanse
then slid away entirely, no trace —
the cosmos reeling as she spun in place.

The cosmos reeled as she spun in place
but she believed Orion would return.
To keep her faith, she took ballet. She learned
to splay her feet and pin her hair, and trace
half-moons across the floor. She wanted grace
to beautify her happy clumsy turns,
and strength to leap — leap high enough to burn
through sky, and track Orion into space!
But childish dreams are fragile. Mirrors mocked
her body, blooming in its leotard;
girls giggled when she raced ahead of Bach.
Humiliation struck — she stumbled hard,
and when Orion swung back into sight
she’d quit the dance, she thought she’d lost the right.

She who had loved to dance gave up the right
to move at all. Arms and legs went slack,
head wobbled and spine threatened to unstack.
Eyes caught in window glass held only spite
for such a faulty body; shoulders bowed
to shield the heart from a hurt it couldn’t name,
and heart alone kept moving, playing its same
small song: Who am I now? Who am I now?
Orion hovered in her window, high
above the earth that kept her body bound.
Once, she thought he’d heard her heart’s refrain —
but everything had changed, even the sky.
She raised her hand to pull the curtain down.
What could his answer bring except more pain?

Child, what answer can I bring your pain
except the singing of my own lament?
I live by fire, bound with fiery chains
to cycles of desire, in permanent
devotion to the keeping of the whole.
You who are free to turn and bend and rise,
you who possess the universe’s sole
unshackled self, is pain too high a price
to pay for so much freedom? Time is bleeding
through your bones, yet while you live, you live
to breathe and touch — and jealous stars are pleading
Dance the body justice! My fugitive
star-dancer, my flickering pulse, my grief:
how can you interrupt a dance so brief?

Daylight, she knew, would interrupt this brief
glimpse of Orion, rising fast above
her window frame. She grabbed her coat and gloves
and tiptoed from the house, then crawled beneath
the split-wood rails that fenced the soccer field,
a sweep of grass where she could sit, lean back,
and look at him. Hours passed. The black
night deepened, and she felt her body yield
itself to stillness, each limb pressed and stitched
until she lay so flat she felt earth’s curve;
so still she felt the massive planet swerve
upon its pole, a carousel that pitched
and whirled beneath the stars . . . and then she knew
he’d never moved. He stayed, as night withdrew.

He never moved again, though night withdrew,
though she stood up and walked back to her house,
then with a shy soft-shoe returned to school,
new friends, and thousands of new books.
Now she found Orion on the page, in charts
that split the sky by months and hemispheres,
in myths devised to keep old gods apart;
when these books closed, days faded into years.
But some nights, catching sight of seven stars,
she shivers. Learning drifts away like scarves
and she sees hands and feet, a dancer’s bend —
her own self moving in his mirror. Then
she stomps, she starts to spin: still trying to touch
what seems at once too little and too much.

Judith Kunst’s poetry has appeared in Able Muse, The Atlantic, Image, Poetry, and many other journals. She is the author of The Burning Word (Paraclete), and lives in Wallace, North Carolina, with her husband and three sons.

First published in Measure, Volume 10, Issue 1 (2015)