Finding a Poem in Martha Graham’s Blood Memory

Tucked between the page
where she describes “doom eager”
(Is it really an Icelandic term
or from a line in an Ibsen play?)
and a haunting black-and-white photo
of her performing “Lamentation,”

there’s a scrap of writing—
an attempt to recapture
four precious days and nights
spent in Iceland. And something else
about a ferry horn blasting long ago,
how its voice is its whistle.

What compelled me to reach
for Martha’s memoir
is as much mystery as
the collection of red herrings
bleeding into one another
on the yellowed paper.

This is where the earth opens up.
Don’t wear your coat inside
the Quonset hut, or
you’ll be cold outside.
It starts gradually, a slight shift
in color in the night sky.

We do the Peanuts dance,
stomping our feet
on the viewing deck to keep warm.
Someone has an app
to locate constellations.
A celestial ridge, a fluorescent aura,

a message best decoded
with a long exposure.
Inside Reykjavík’s Stofan Cafe,
a couple speaks rapid Italian
and sips strong coffee.
I think about bodies again.

It’s so American to hate your body.
I’m so American learning how to love.
I tremble, I shutter, I turn a corner
onto a boardwalk in the dunes
where you suggest
we both get it over with.

When I close my eyes
on an overseas plane, I see places
I’ve never visited come into focus.
I smell mortality in those lava rocks.
No solar plasma will go unnoticed.
The sun is drooling again.

It goes on and on
about tattooed buildings,
how the moonlight tastes
like a lilac halo,
how vertigo anchors me
to the hot ground, and

I’m reminded steam is not a sin.

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