For three years, I studied flamenco dance at the local adult education center, mainly so I could write about it. (Writers are like that.) In the process, I discovered Spanish tapas, made friends, and realized that I liked darker colors than I had previously (cranberry, fir green, etc.). Also, kalamata olives! So, win-win.
As it happened, my teacher in real life is a florist, so I wrote this poem with her in mind, trying to capture the 3-3-2-2-2 rhythm of many of the different traditional dances, such as the allegrias (joy).
The Flamenco Teacher
for Malena, who is “just a florist”
The flowers are extravagant, unafraid,
brazen gypsies, holding nothing back
except their thoughts, haughty, bold
and sultry as a summer in Seville.
Their jade hips, clad in silken frills
blazing orange, purple, red, tilt
and turn toward the sun. They look
it straight in its single eye, like
matadors who challenge a golden bull,
like a flamenco dancer,
over their shoulders
at each other,
Petal, pistil, stamen, stem and root:
beneath your hands, these blossoms toss
heads, moody, beautiful, game for anything.
When you dance, your wrists become veined stems.
like yellow irises,
Twelve students cower, nerves jangling, filled
with doubt, try to crack through shells built
of concrete, tackle your taconeo, heelwork drills,
and, though tangled in our fears, leery of passion
and lacking the proper heat, feel the music, loud
and fast, hear the sad lyrics, enter the beat of
Something happens there, between one foot
and the other, with the keening, thrumming
guitar and the snap of castanets, something lean
and wary, beguiling, a trial by fire–
Uncomfortable? Yes, but vast and rowdy,
extravagant, filled with lust: just what we need
to travel out of our flustered selves, to become
at breaking inertia,
to smell a faint perfume–
We trust you. Down to our roots,
where trembling buries itself in layer
upon layer, we strive to act proud,
new, we strive to fling away nine-to-five
inhibitions, hear the complaint of the driving
guitar as part of our everyday. You try
to turn our white carnation lives
patiently, into vivid play, create
a place for us to grow hardy
and come to no harm, be flamboyant,
joyous: gladiola gorgeous and sure.
Your arms draw broad circles in the air.
We mimic you grimly, well aware
of our flaws. Our own earnest arms only
until the music
and you can see the difference clearly, in our faces–
proves your faith in us
Lightness follows, and grace, and, if it is not
consistent, if navigating gypsy space still
causes us to tighten our muscles and sweat,
if we still swallow our best instincts, if
our breath comes in broken, obstinate gusts–
still, we know we did it once, so we can.
Bulbs do turn into buds, the beginnings
of burning color. And buds, though they may
wait a long time and bloom late, always
open and climb if they get enough sunlight
and cultivation. We are, each of us, not such
different creatures, our shut petals stirring,
finally, when we trust. You are a florist. Just
so. What you have learned from flowers,
you must teach.