One-Legged Dancer: Low-key, playful poems
One thing you don’t expect to come across in an anthology of poetry about Native Americans and Mexicans is a reference to Monty Python.
But there it is, in a piece called “Brave Mr. Buckingham”– a reference to a stump of a knight, Neek Neeking his enemy. On the next page, poet Pamela Uschuk compares the color of her love’s arm to fried chicken. I like this brand of underdog sympathy.
Uschuk’s latest book, One-Legged Dancer, takes its title from an Aztec ceremony witnessed from a plaza café in Guanajuato. A fiery dance with tribal drums and pheasant feathers is moving through the square to the marble steps of the cathedral, and Uschuk, enchanted by the regal beauty of the lead female dancer and the flame-gold loincloths, insists,
But it is the one-legged dancer,
Hopping and leaning on his crutch
Wrapped in electric blue tape
I would follow
Through this world.
In fact, Uschuk (a white woman of northern European heritage who splits her time between North Carolina, where she teaches creative writing at Salem College, and Colorado), is low-key about her passions for the people of her poetry. She doesn’t forget she is part of the outside world that challenges an older and vanquished culture to both survive and educate us. In a tribute to Mayan ruins, she writes of tourism:
Single-file we walk back to our lives
Staring into the ancient promise
We’ve avoided all these years.
Uschuks’ shame about the unhappy legacies of development on native cultures still manages to be playful; just as her love poems (for they nearly all are– even the politically righteous messages are cloaked in sensuality) are more about pleasure than passion. There is a difference, after all– take fried chicken, for instance, which is immensely pleasurable and not at all passionate.
In the end, says Uschuk, champion of the one-legged dancer,
Aren’t we all chopped up here,
Brave Mr. Buckinghams,
Laughing at the amputated world?
Pamela Uschuk will read and sign copies of One-Legged Dancer (Wings Press) Tuesday, February 11, at 7pm. Barracks Road Shopping Center, 984-0461.