the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night




Holly R. Appling

In the Language of the Tango

Oh, how it is as they say—nothing
Remains the same, even good
Fortune has a way of changing.

There is a creature you would not recognize
Here: after the collapse, I watched
Accomplishments vanish, become surreal, ethereal debris swept away.

Acquaintances strayed, too. A chemical
Echo smote skeletons still
In motion—leaving a phantom white strike

In place of eyes, a radiation drone
In place of a heart, a live-ion decomposing
In place of a mind—

I listened to the vibration
Within the space
Plagued by a vague pathogen.

They say times change. Did they
Mean decay? Times decay. No, not to be mentioned
Should our attempts to create seem in vain.

So the tale goes, the knight from Transylvania
Was once a man in love—
Not even a midnight incisor bite

Could resuscitate
The beloved from another dimension—she would
Plunge the stake in just to see him again.

Rogue witness adrift amidst fossil celestials—
Such is a consequence of that which
Is timeless sequestered within a finite system shifting gears:

Some thing will, on occasion 
Twist into chaos to exist. The annihilation and perversion
Persist in a world with such predictable limits.

There: what suffering becomes on air—bare
Emotions spare careful lightning bug trails,
The settling zest reminiscent of the original protest enduring.

In Greek myth, the soul
Is depicted by a butterfly. In Greek,
Psyche means both soul and butterfly

And a butterfly has always
Made me sigh—however meek and fleeting
The winged goddess sighting.

Too late to go? No, no. Known in time
The rhythm of the mind slows as the doors open to old
Ventricle girders, dull lub-dub disperses rust and dust. To keep in step, breath in—

I no longer conjure a blunt paper doll,
Shallow and callous, my edge set to slit skin. Breathe in—
Why can't it be smooth

The first time? I remember red.
I moved within the center of an ember, transmuting
Limb to flame

To anticipate your next
Endeavor. Entering the illusion through the half-moon valve, it will take years
To master that silken exhale and crackle...

Relax—you're too mathematical.
I do it injustice, trying to write about it.
Its mood so elusive I am alright to cry in the residue of its beauty.

Ready? When you are in the embrace, you
Are already dancing
You must believe this. The music

A universe in itself, tilting
Distance distills nostalgia sweet and bitter, when I hear this rhythm
The sea rises in me, blithe tides easing broken motion.

It is a perfect, fervent democracy: no social classes,
It does not matter your scars or heartache, expertise or creed—
No one asks your profession

Or your background—your life before this
Became a passion. None of that matters
While you're turning hand in hand.

There are four elements to the tango:
Personality, elegance, rhythm
And the finale. You must finish with a flourish. Ha—cha cha cha.

Not lost: enduring the verge, los milongueros
Are uniquely lonely people—most take to tango
To mend a deep wound, exquisite

In its fragility, jagged strata expressed in shapes of native emotions—
Two sway their grief, until one being moves
Across the evening's starkly lit portal, blending

Among shadows and howls from dark corners.
Yes, I lead, but I listen to her in the language
Of the tango—

Not with words, we speak
To each other: between
Toe point and staccato ebb and flow,

We reveal our dreams, travelling
An intangible world—
I whisper, kiss her, linger, walk with her train of thought:

Holding close our worn wings, spiraling
Toward the orchestra's
Metamorphic spark, tranquil finale etched in bliss and ash.

Life is one long search for love, some say
You never find it
First time around or maybe

You do—
Though one thing remains, times change.
Hola, mi nombre es Natalia,

I come to la milonga in the afternoons
To escape work. I bring my heeled shoes for dance.
Ever since tango,

I have lived another life.




1. Sections of the poem were inspired from interviews with patrons of La Confitería Ideal, a tango salon in Buenos Aires, Argentina. See also the BBC Four documentary, 'La Confitería Ideal: The Tango Salon'.


2. The Greek definition of psyche taken from the notes on John Keat's 'Ode on Melancholy'. The Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats. The Modern Library, Random House, New York, 2001.



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