Rebecca Seiferle

The Music We Dance To Sheep Meadow Press, 1999
    Nominated for Pulitzer Prize
    Nominated for Pushcart Prize
    1998 Cecil Hemley Award: Poetry Society of America
    Best American Poetry 2000: edited by Rita Dove

Rebecca Seiferle

        The Music We Dance To

        Winnowed along the earth or whirled along the sky,
        Life lives on. It is the lives, the lives, the lives that die.


        For instance, the last time I saw my friend
        alive — though I didn’t know it was the last
        time, or I would have said something, put a wedge
        in the revolving door, to stop its panes
        from breaking up her sandy hair, turning
        her reflection out into the New York City street.
        But perhaps not, for I have always liked the apocryphal
        St. Francis who, asked how he would spend his last day,
        answered “keep on hoeing the garden.”
        So, perhaps, knowingly, I would still have given
        Beth the flowers that others had given me —
        an over-generous bouquet, mingling the blooms
        of summer, and of spring, their conflicting
        fragrances, odd lengths of stem, falling over
        into the porcelain box full of water.
        I didn’t know what to do with them; I was leaving
        for Seattle and couldn’t imagine carrying
        that severed field, sloshing, to the other side
        of the continent. Beth’s arms were empty,
        she had helped pick the flowers, was,
        in a sense, transporting them back
        to their origins, back to the impulse
        that had first sent them to me,
        and she gathered them up gladly,
        maneuvering their fragile coronas
        through the narrowness of the glass door.
        I don’t mean to suggest her going
        was anything like Persephone being swept out
        of view, the flowers falling back
        to earth, dissevered, dying.
        It was a real cab she got into,
        not the one we invented the night before
        to escape a boring crowd. When we talked
        about this habit people have of disappearing,
        we meant how our chums from college had wanted to go home
        too early, though it wasn’t to “home,” but some hotel
        or friend’s apartment; we had all been able to meet, precisely,
        because we were away from ’home,’ had vacated its premises,
        assumed a somewhere else, ’behind’ or ’ahead’ of us —
        where we would be awaited with longing,
        like those small grains Demeter hoarded
        to outlast the winter. In my hotel room, we kept on talking
        while I packed. Then, a moment of quiet — like the wound
        that uprooting leaves in the earth — began eroding
        into canyons, abysmal rifts. Much later,
        I was to connect the ease with which she had slipped away
        to the cancer, its blood red seed beginning to sprout,
        as it must have been possible, so long ago,
        to hear the grasses being crushed,
        beneath the rim of that black chariot wheel,
        as the Lord of the Underworld coasted into view.
        I kept packing, cramming everything
        into my suitcase — reminded of how Unamuno said
        we were all travelers who stuffed whatever
        we could into our luggage, then trimmed away what
        did not fit — though it was the night itself
        that the clock’s fluorescent hands were pruning
        down to nothing. In the morning, when she ran
        toward a cab, pulled away forever from the curb,
        I remembered how, in college, we always danced together
        to I Heard It Through The Grapevine, — the same way
        I would hear of her death, called
        from a warm bath to the phone,
        thinking it was a joke, as the chilling water
        dripped and pooled on the floor around me.
        The last time I danced with her,
        we were holding hands, twenty of so of us,
        in a line of bodies, whirling through a darkened student union,
        the Charlie Chaplin movie flickering
        on the opposite wall, mingling our hands, our faces,
        with bits of the tramp’s twirling cane, his sad expression.
        I followed Beth’s white blouse, an ordinary white blouse,
        as we rushed ahead, but she didn’t pull me along;
        it was the momentum of the circle itself, the force
        of those leaping bodies, a merry-go-round of flesh, linked
        hand to hand to the one before and the one after — a wheel
        like that other wheel, black spokes, rim of iron, moving
        faster and faster until the velocity, the whip effect
        at the end of the line, began to snap us off,
        one by one, flying into the darkness.

    Copyright © 1993. Rebecca Seiferle. All Rights Reserved.

    “The Music We Dance To” twines together the story of a friend’s death and allusions to the Rape of Persephone in a cunning braid of narrative and discursive argument. The conversational tone is seductive and convincing. In the end the power of Lucretius’ great insight into morality, which serves as the poem’s epigraph, is powerfully brought home.”
    — Mark Jarman, judge for the citation for the Cecil Hemley Award.

    “With a bitter, withering irony and an eye for shocking beauty, Rebecca Seiferle (The Ripped-Out Seam) taps out The Music We Dance To. Whether lamenting ‘The Last of the Goat Milk Soap’ given to her by her father or imagining ‘The Disbudding’ of newly born goats (“no nerves in the skin of a baby or the skullcap of a goat”), Seiferle cuts straight to the emotionally honest kernel within family, spirit and myth. ‘Welcome to Ithaca’ reveals ‘Odysseus’ heart was a dog, its hackles/ rising when he saw the women caught up/in the suitor’s arms, someone else’s pets,/ and only in a dream did Penelope weep for her slaughtered geese, their soft white strewn/ round the water trough.”
    Publishers Weekly January 10, 2000.

    “. . . this is poetry with an intense vision, often dark, but with verve and sophistication. . .Seiferle’s poetry is highly polished in terms of craft, and has an intellectual as well as emotional force.. .Her work is full not only of Catholicism, but also of the Aztec mythology and worldview that filled Mesoamerica before the conquest. She draws not only from the Bible and from the Christian cycles of death and redemption but from Buffalo Woman and from her own life as a woman at the turn of a millennium. This poetry is rich, and yields more with each reading. In the end, Seiferle’s work is literally grounded in the soil of this world, here and now, as her book ends: ‘I would hear, not the ancient/voice of some muttering god/but the hum of the earth itself.’ ”
    — Miriam Sagan for New Mexico Magazine June, 2000.

    “Rebecca Seiferle’s second collection, The Music We Dance To, is perhaps above all an attempt to pattern the language of grief. Much of the volume is devoted to the memory of her father, with graphic attention to his body, both living and scattered. Some of the best poems in this collection are also the strangest: a gathering of abstract angels, a meditation on her mother’s pubic hair, the murder of a Venezuelan schoolboy. While a few of the familial poems seem almost too plain with mourning, the collection has the rare ability to seize on the shape and tenor of loss to offer up the residue of pain . . . Working the material of loss into fine insight and phrase, Seiferle instructs us in the management of grief, revealing how palpable attention to such loss can be an act of resurrection.”
    — Genevieve Abravanel for The Harvard Review April 2000.

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