Philip Dacey: "Choreographing Whitman: Timber Creek"




Clothes hung on a rail, straw hat and shoes

all he kept on, and the stiffest brush

against arms, breast, sides, up and down to renew

his skin’s glow, give it a baby’s blush.


Black loam in a marlpit spread on thick,

soothing bath in which to sink and wallow,

old boar, before a rinsing in the brook.

Repeat, then brisk rub with a fragrant towel.


Promenade, too, at water’s edge, portable

chair in hand for frequent stops, his companion

a shadow (steps perfectly synchronized!) to pull

earthward a beech-branch for their muscle tone.


At Timber Creek, such daily choreography,

his moves functional, medicinal, post-stroke.

Whether rolling in mud or wrestling trees, a free-

style solo designed to lure his health back.


Wild creatures had the best seats in the house

while he sat, stood.  No motion taken for granted.

A staff as prop.  As score, the soundings of his voice.

A minor arabesque to test his balance.


Ghosts from the Civil War surrounded him,

partnered him all at once.  Or were the corps

de ballet—limping, stooping, slow—from whom

he stood out on his walk along the shore.



Philip Dacey is the author of ten books, including whole collections about Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas Eakins, and New York City.  His latest is Vertebrae Rosaries: 50 Sonnets (Red Dragonfly Press, 2009).  His eleventh collection, Mosquito Operas: New and Selected Short Poems, is forthcoming from Rain Mountain Press.  The recipient of three Pushcart Prizes, Dacey has been awarded two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and a Fulbright fellowship to Yugoslavia.