Cut the Now, and Dance

[Video from the PBS Blank on Blank series of animated “vintage [and previously unheard] interviews” with various celebrities. Others currently include, e.g., Jim Morrison on “Why Fat is Beautiful” (1969) and Dave Brubeck on “Fighting Communism with Jazz” (2008)]

From whiskey river:

Ours is a planet sown in beings. Our generations overlap like shingles. We don’t fall in rows like hay, but we fall. Once we get here, we spend forever on the globe, most of it tucked under. While we breathe, we open time like a path in the grass. We open time as a boat’s stem slits the crest of the present.

(Annie Dillard [source])


But it is never over; nothing ends until we want it to.
Look, in shattered midnights,
On black ice under silver trees, we are still dancing, dancing.

(Gwendolyn MacEwen [source])

Not from whiskey river:

Far Company

At times now from some margin of the day
I can hear birds of another country
not the whole song but a brief phrase of it
out of a music that I may have heard
once in a moment I appear to have
forgotten for the most part that full day
no sight of which I can remember now
though it must have been where my eyes were then
that knew it as the present while I thought
of somewhere else without noticing that
singing when it was there and still went on
whether or not I noticed now it falls
silent when I listen and leaves the day
and flies before it to be heard again
somewhere ahead when I have forgotten

(W.S. Merwin [source])


In Highland New Guinea, now Papua New Guinea, a British district officer named James Taylor contacted a mountain village, above three thousand feet, whose tribe had never seen any trace of the outside world. It was the 1930s. He described the courage of one villager. One day, on the airstrip hacked from the mountains near his village, this man cut vines and lashed himself to the fuselage of Taylor’s airplane shortly before it took off. He explained calmly to his loved ones that, no matter what happened, he had to see where it came from.

(Annie Dillard, ibid.)



Remember the 1340s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.

Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.

The 1790s will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.

(Billy Collins [source])

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  1. All this talk of dancing called to mind a favourite frippery of mine by J.B. Morton, a great English newspaper humourist who wrote a funny column under the alias ‘Beachcomber’ in the Daily Express for some fifty-odd years.

    The Dancing Cabman

    Alone on the lawn
    The cabman dances
    In the dew of dawn he kicks and prances
    His bowler is set on his bullet head
    For his boots are wet and his aunt is dead.

    There on the lawn
    As the light advances
    On the tide of the dawn
    The cabman dances.

    Swift and strong as a garden roller
    He dances along in his little bowler
    Skimming the lawn with royal grace
    The dew of dawn on his great red face
    To fairy flutes as the light advances
    In square black boots the cabman dances.

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