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,

like two

who gaze

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.


Your hands,

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


tiger lilies

shot through

with fire,



at breaking inertia,


noses closer

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


stammer and

stutter those

moves that




until the music

we hear–


and you can see the difference clearly, in our faces–



the rambunctious

music clamors

through us,

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.





our two



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.

Every Rant Deserves an Exception: Muses I Have Known and Written…

Even before I finish my title, I have to start this blog entry because I can’t choose which preposition to use: for? to? about? All of the above? Over the years, I have had several people who have inspired me to write poetry. I don’t really count the men as muses, because to my mind love poetry is a different kettle of gummy bears. Knowing that people have been writing love poetry for 4,000 years or more is a lot of pressure, and I most often handle it by being a bit self-deprecating or funny. I see a lot of humor in romance. Let’s face it, being in love is a lot like being a little insane, and as Buffy the Vampire Slayer would say, “Love makes you do the wacky.” I am not talking about poetry like that, although it is a good idea for a future post.

I am talking about normal people in my life, friends, teachers, whose way of being in the world or the way they talk just triggers either imagery or juxtaposed ideas or a desire to unpack why they are unique to me. This is more like what poet Maggie Anderson calls “important excitements”: the (usually) short-term artistic obsessions writers and artists indulge in. Think of Monet’s 250 paintings of that lily pond. Like that.

greatwave This happens to me a lot. Usually I get excited about things, rather than people. At some point I will write a post about why I so adore the ukiyo-e woodblock artists from Japan, especially Hokusai and Hiroshige. Or my obsession with writing about characters from popular culture, such as Raggedy Ann, Barbie, Xena, or Amelia Earhart. Or the two months I spent writing incredibly long poems about Jack of the Beanstalk.


Sometimes, though, I meet someone who snags my attention. Take one of my flamenco teachers, Malena. I started to study flamenco dance out of curiosity and stayed out of fascination. It should be said that at no time in those three years did any actual talent for dance on my part ever appear. I learned a lot about rhythm and can now clap in time, even when the time is complex, and I can twirl my hands elegantly (big life skill, that). I appreciate Spanish food and rough guitar music and I can still do a little of the footwork (it helps pass the time waiting in subway stations).

cotton-ruffle-tank-dress_7-hot-dresses-from-marc-jacobsBut more than anything, what I saw was a way women could be both feminine and strong. I normally always associated femininity with pink dresses, a lot of skin, some dumb chick simpering up to a man. Bleah. The women who took flamenco class weren’t like that, and Malena herself was (and is) one tough chick in command of her own body. Flamenco is a fiercely passionate kind of dance, noisy, and in some way very feminine. Empowering. So when I wrote more than a dozen poems about flamenco, whether or not Malena was the topic, she was in many ways the trigger, the inspiration. The following is an excerpt from “The Flamenco Teacher” (for Malena, who is “just a florist”):

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.

Your hands,

like yellow irises,




The key challenge was to express the visual images and the strong emotions with beautiful words, while also keeping with the kind of ropy uneven rhythm of the different dances, most of which are in 12, not 4/4.

I will leave you with a video of the legendary Carmen Amaya (1913 to 1963) dancing awesome flamenco.