23 July 2009

Buck Dancer's Choice

Russell Lee: Buck Dancers at a Square Dance, Pie Town, New Mexico, June 1940

From Richard Nevell's A Time to Dance: American Country Dancing (1977):

Buckdancing is the simplest and yet the most enigmatic kind of southern mountain dancing. Essentially, buckdancing is a dance for one but can be for more than one; the dance itself involves nothing more than moving your feet in time to the music... Make no mistake about it, it is not easy to buckdance.

Buckdancer's Choice

So I would hear out those lungs,
The air split into nine levels,
Some gift of tongues of the whistler

In the invalid’s bed: my mother,
Warbling all day to herself
The thousand variations of one song;

It is called Buckdancer’s Choice.
For years, they have all been dying
Out, the classic buck-and-wing men

Of traveling minstrel shows;
With them also an old woman
Was dying of breathless angina,

Yet still found breath enough
To whistle up in my head
A sight like a one-man band,

Freed black, with cymbals at heel,
An ex-slave who thrivingly danced
To the ring of his own clashing light

Through the thousand variations of one song
All day to my mother’s prone music,
The invalid’s warbler’s note,

While I crept close to the wall
Sock-footed, to hear the sounds alter,
Her tongue like a mockingbird’s break

Through stratum after stratum of a tone
Proclaiming what choices there are
For the last dancers of their kind,

For ill women and for all slaves
Of death, and children enchanted at walls
With a brass-beating glow underfoot,

Not dancing but nearly risen
Through barnlike, theatrelike houses
On the wings of the buck and wing.

--James Dickey

Or, it could mean a Thursday evening meal by yourself as the rain spills off the tiled roofs, and the garlic, parsley, and olive oil taste just right with the sautéed octopus and Alentejo white. Make no mistake about it, for the last dancers of their kind, it is not easy to buck dance.

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