for Martha Graham (1894-1991)

Ithaca, 1966— I was searching for
my muse when you came to Cornell
and danced The Acrobats of God,
showing me how a perfect leap
of freedom comes not from spontaneity
but through years of discipline.
You were 72 then, but autographed
my program with such verve as if
choreographing a hawk in flight.
That was the moment when I wanted
to learn to dance, to feel like
an acrobat, to be a poet of life.

Too shy to wear leotards in
a modern dance class with women,
I took up folk-dancing instead.
My sister laughed at my stiffness
at first, but made me a Russian
dance costume a year later when
she saw how lithe I had become.
Ten years would pass before
those exuberant Balkan dances—
Paidusjko, U Sest, Belasicko
Oro and the Five-Figure Cacak

could flow through me like wind.

But on that night when I knew
neither how to waltz or pivot,
your dance swirled me skipping
across the campus, the Pleiades
and Orion watching my prancings.
With your signed dance program
as my partner, I would swing
between those bold angular
and smooth strokes of your name—
your picturesque G, a bird's beak,
your t-bar over the stem soaring,
your h-loops pirouetting in air.

Oh, how I leaped when I saw art
in Martha, the aha in Graham,
your two ha's— the outbreath
of Abraham and Sarah, and your
w-like m's, huge twin chalices
gathering in the moonlight.

Peter Y. Chou, Palo Alto, 4-4-91

Peter Y. Chou— from Fresh Hot Bread, June 1991 —

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