Turn, Counterturn, Stand

Turn, Counterturn, Stand

Turn, Counterturn, Stand

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A weekly poem, read by the author.
Aug. 20 1998 3:30 AM

Turn, Counterturn, Stand

Turn, Counterturn, Stand


By Stanley Plumly

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(posted Wednesday, Aug. 19, 1998)

To hear the poet read "Turn, Counterturn, Stand," click here.

He's dressed like a patient,
     naked to the waist,
in bottoms like pajamas.
     And hooked by invisible wire
to a monitor hooked to an amplifier.
     All of this on stage,
like intensive care,
     the badge of his connection
at the center of his chest,
     recording and rendering his pulse.
His heart is the dancer,
     and its muscle the music
that rises and subsides: each searching
     step, each turn, each somersault
and curl, each sudden rest.
     Baryshnikov is fifty, but older,
paler, resurrected in the lights.
     You hear his heart
literally leap in the machine-magnified
     midair. He won't come down,
then all at once he will.

When I bend to hear my parents'
     hearts or lean against a wall
to hear my friend's,
     it's like water in a shell
held tightly to the ear:
     salt blood and ocean emptiness
and wind, vena cavae, almost still.
     The last thing you want
to hear is the sound
     of your own worn heart.
It has a signature, a rhythm, a silence
     like your voice or fingerprint,
the heartline of the graph
     the abstract of a mountain range
or large waves coming in,
     repeated and repeated and repeated--
a child's idea of drawing,
     a child's obsessive dance or nursery
rhyme yet years and years
     of listening to this child,
who will not change but does.

When I remember what it was like
     to see them in the wards,
impaled in bed and wired,
     every orifice acknowledged,
every innocence corrupted and exposed,
     when I think of the awful
trembling passed by hand,
     the dry white chemical breath
of what was said, the skeletal skin
     so ghostly it seemed they'd already

gone--that God, in His Mercy,
     had pulled their sick hearts out,
bled them, drained them, kissed the dead
     weight from the bones,
that I was looking at myself in rags
     that were my parents--when I think of
them I think of my friend
     with no one there those hours,
no one to witness, no one to take
     his pulse, no one to talk or listen,
no one to cross his heart.

Stanley Plumly's latest book is titled The Marriage in the Trees. He's a professor of English at the University of Maryland.