Nijinsky for the Ages


Here's a dancer or acrobat done with pencil and white-out on construction paper for a poem about the ballet Dancer Nijinsky.
‘Blue Dancer’: pencil and white-out on construction paper


Nijinsky for the Ages

The dancer wore the cross
in order to gain an audience.
Whether he loves himself as Narcissus or God
he needs to be watched by ordinary people.


It is God
because Narcissus is all by himself.


The audience shows up to be amused
and thinks he dances for its amusement.
It takes as its own the emotion of his movements.
When his dances are frightening,
it thinks he wants to kill it.


The dancer is the spiritlife of the audience.
Outside the dance,
he claims to live like it lives
that it may find him sympathetic.


Aristocrats beg the dancer to dance again
But for now he must feign retirement.
Their inducements offer comfort,
whether or not their money
will finally contaminate him.
They become like temptation
when God calls out to the dancer, “Enough.”


“We all need money to carry out our plans,”
the dancer says time and again.
“We earn money to help us solve our problems.”
The dancer is God’s problem, not Antichrist’s.
“God,” says the dancer, “requires no money.”


God sits in the audience too.
Who knows it is there with them?
When it leaves the dancer will die soon.


The dancer expresses himself
from within his own sense of silence.
Like the dance,
writing is silent.
Listening is silence.
To listen to God
and to obey him: at last,
this is a good regular mode of living.
Because dancer is not afraid to live
it needs no money either.
Yet this insistence on it as inconsequential
operates like a deeply felt obsession.
With money, he reflects,
one can write a book,
feather a nest,
glide through the air
more effortlessly.[1]


[1] I don’t think many young people these days know the name Nijinsky but everyone is impressed by photos of him, the air he gets leaping, searched up on the internet. My only qualm with my own lines about the good dancer is that other older writers and writers now gone have their own pieces about him already. Marvin Solomon has one. Frank Bidart has one. I’ve found six more by men alone who are part of this Nijinsky club I imagine. My insecurities arise from the distinct possibility that they have a greater insight into our shared subject matter. I keep this worry from the young people I know and share what I can in passing with what confidence I can muster.


Gilda’s Club


Gilda Radner in 1980 (photo in public domain)



Wandering amid the women in his life, a once-lonely man with a wry sense of humor found love simply by persisting in telling the same dumb jokes over and over again—and listening for laughter. Lifting her veil, he now tried to speak, but found himself speechless in the eyes the wisest comedienne he’d ever witnessed.



American comic Gilda Radner (1946-1989) wore many faces. One she called Roseanne Roseannadanna. She played other characters with names like Brungilda, Emily Litella, Candy Slice, and Judy Miller.

Donning a huge head of tight curls, she, Roseanne Roseannadanna, was a fake and movingly puerile consumer-affairs reporter on the mock news broadcast on the late-night variety show Saturday Night Live—first airing in the early 1970s.

Brash and tactless, she, Roseanne Roseannadanna, was quick to savage colleagues and viewers alike—anyone who got in the way of what she was saying—before digressing into something bodily, something scatological, like her own flatulence or the status of one of her nose hairs.

She, Roseanne Roseannadanna, dropped names so that in one moment she was reading a letter from a viewer, usually one Mister Feder of Fort Lee, New Jersey, asking about quitting smoking or how breast feeding a baby works in practice, and in the next she was going on about her supposed run-in with Princess Grace of Monaco.

Maniacal, sarcastic, insistent, she, Roseanne Roseannadanna, marked my earliest exposure to this kind of playacting. As a form of insistence, she, Roseanne Roseannadanna, chronically referred to herself by her full name. Save for the emphatic I, she favored fewer pronouns for herself when speaking about herself, of whom she spoke admiringly.

Though she, Ms. Radner, was a master of sketch comedy, none of the teenagers in my life have ever heard of her. This makes sense. It would be like my reciting from Lucille Ball when I was their age or a teenager forty years hence laughing at the antics of I don’t know who or what in our present moment.

Once Ms. Radner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she famously said, “Having cancer gave me membership In an elite club I’d rather not belong to.” Upon her death, her husband, also a famous comic, helped to found Gilda’s Club, an international organization created to support people living with cancer.

Having sworn off marriage after the death of his wife Gilda Radner, the widower did eventually remarry. Sometime after that—or was it sometime before?—he sought therapy. For what specifically, I don’t know. Loneliness? Anger? Depression? Impulsivity?  He said to his shrink something like, Hey Doc, I have the urge to give away all my money. Well, replied the therapist, how much money do you have? Me? he said, I owe $300.

One day I was walking down Division Street in Nashville when I happened upon a red brick building—home to one the chapters of Gilda’s Club. So read the bronze plaque on the facade on such a bright and muggy day. The parking lot was empty. The windows were dark. Cupping my hands about my face to peer through the glass, I got the sense of a clock ticking. Dust motes. Empty chairs. Dusky silence. A card table stood strewn with magazines. A turntable sat beside a stack of records. Beyond bookshelves, a view to a kitchen and, everywhere, jutting shadows. Suddenly overwhelmed by a sense not so much of time passing as of time having passed—of not so much death as the insignificance of a single life in the context of the sheer number of individuals who have entreated youth to linger—I backed away from the window and, looking around to see if my nosiness had raised eyebrows, I buried my hands in my pockets and, with a down-turned gaze, continued my walk as if nothing had happened.