Charles Adès Fishman

A DANCE ON THE POEMS OF RILKE

I remember a Czech dancer who danced on the poems of Rilke.
—Stennie Pratomo-Gret

In the particular hell of Ravensbrück
where Gypsy girls were sterilized and babies
were drowned at birth   where dysentery
lung cancer and typhus   took life after life
and grotesque experiments in the inducement
of infection and pain were cultivated as a fine art

where women of every European nation slaved
for Siemens   through endless moonless nights
and cut trees   dug pits   loaded and unloaded
railway cars and barges   where abortion was
inevitable   and sexual cruelty the rule   and where

a woman could be duly tortured for using rags
as tampons   or merely for adjusting her dress
a certain Czech woman who knew every word
danced to the poems of Rilke   moving sinuously
to each of his Orphean sonnets   bowing gracefully
with the first notes of each Elegie: she felt the dark music

of Rilke's heart   each soaring leap of the spirit   each lunge
toward grief    Though she is long gone   and we
no longer know her name   she is the one who showed
even a halting step could be a triumph   and a dance
on the poems of a dead poet   might redeem.

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