A long time ago, one of the men from my writing class at the Minnesota AIDS Project, a beautiful writer whose memoirs I still keep in a “Favorites” file, invited us all over to his house for a potluck dinner. I remember he was lying on the couch when we arrived. He hadn’t felt well for years. He’d had to leave his job at the theater. He moved slowly.
But at one point in the evening, talking about one of his favorite performances, he suddenly drew back, hands extended, and transfixed me with a few lines from the play. I remember how his eyes blazed, how his voice changed. I saw for a minute the wildness of his young man self, in love with theater, in love with life, before disease ravaged him.
The Dancing, by Gerald Stern
In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture
and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots
I have never seen a post-war Philco
with the automatic eye
nor heard Ravel’s “Bolero” the way I did
in 1945 in that tiny living room
on Beechwood Boulevard, nor danced as I did
then, my knives all flashing, my hair all streaming,
my mother red with laughter, my father cupping
his left hand under his armpit, doing the dance
of old Ukraine, the sound of his skin half drum,
half fart, the world at last a meadow,
the three of us whirling and singing, the three of us
screaming and falling, as if we were dying,
as if we could never stop—in 1945—
in Pittsburgh, beautiful filthy Pittsburgh, home
of the evil Mellons, 5,000 miles away
from the other dancing—in Poland and Germany—
oh God of mercy, oh wild God.