This Lotus is a Rabbit:
10 Poems as Tribute
This Lotus is a Rabbit: 10 Poems as Tribute is an echo of a remembrance; it is a new contribution to Hip Hop dance's collective memory, responds to the work of Larissa Clement Belhacel and acts as a commemoration to the historically significant figures of Skeeter Rabbit and Marjory Smarth. While making poems of others can be a way of exploring their identity and stories, there is nothing quite like attempting to visualise the milestone moments and encounters in their lives. Inspired by Club and Street Dances: An Art of Remembrance I set out to reflect upon the monumental sacrifices and service of these two legendary dancers, with a focus on their body language, emotional expression and the rich tapestry of empathy that comes to fore in their footwork. It is no secret that I have a deep love and affection for legends and these poems afforded me opportunity to deepen my curiosity and wonderment whilst getting closer to their dance, their flow and impact on the scene.
ONE SKEET IS ENOUGH
“Popping is freedom of expression
done to the rhythm of the music—“
there are things lovely and strange
still what the world cannot see the
sweetness your memory the dancing
believed to be your air gone real gone
but not forgotten your face still there
on the glass by the house the dance
floor everywhere when the stage lights
shows off new styles forerunners of a
new race half and half people walking
through your footsteps stealing your
power moves speaking funk with a
fresno accent fighting hard to resist
the violence beckoning from the street
fighting back to live in a land full of
white teeth to survive the borderlands
drained but eager to make science of
your techniques all the freedom
in your loops drums beating inside your
brain each day perfect each day a thousand
generosities small steps taken with painful
relief thus sharing love oh unity windless day
the only time in your life as you stood there
and hollered as you stood there and offered
your body as antidote as boogaloo strutting
with jubilation in a foreign venue knowing
DANCE DELIGHT II
after Les Rencontres de la Villette
Waking up to your reflection on
the glassless mirror, blurred already
in memory’s eyes, I think of you
about to lock and my brother about
to strut again and shut my eyes,
as if waiting for joy or music, as if
halting without a reverb, which
brings me suddenly to the young boy,
up one early summer morning,
bearing silence with the goddess of a
bygone world, marred by the unhewn
wounds of gang violence, yet sufficed
to hold the wild-eye delights of dancing.
I can’t stop looking. You have the kind
of heart that never quite closes, inhabited
and full of emotions, even in the deepest
isolation. Oblivious to the DJ’s recued
beats, to the lockers sliding legs, and
classic split jumps. I want to ask—just
so you know someone adores you,
but not enough to know your trauma—
the pinks of your childhood and I wond-
ered if I am from the South, a suburb,
where a cascade of hip! hop! hap! is
not only a noun or a verb, but also
your way of life—
FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN
When I drifted off upon the puzzle
of your life, something in my voice pops,
like a sudden flexion in your robotic moves,
from tearing the cipher open with your
swaggering b-boying splits.
When I up lock the air, the spirit in the sky,
spilling all your boogalooo ad-libs into the
streets, the beat its own flavour, each roboting
and strutting— a dancer’s feet floating
to welcome the scratching sounds of your
favourite hymn— one last toast to the OG’s,
to the year of a hit and roll, the years on your
collapsible body with its sharp muscle
imitating the toy man.
SESAME STREET CLASSIC
“I dance because it saved my life”
-- Skeeter Rabbit
Dancers to your left and
right execute heart-stopping
head-spins, swaggering b-boy moves,
You sit in a hard-brown
one of the ones reserved for
the judges or moderators.
Your eyes, charming
but not enough to hide your guilt.
On the right—no,
a human beat-box with a microphone.
how well you know it—
how familiar it is—
the way that their undulating bodies make you
feel—happy, powerful, understood.
You heard their conversation with the music,
oblivious to my ogling,
their energy struts four
holds your body on some distant, undiscovered echelon.
They must still be around
those old memories
beside the window,
the middle of the apartment where
your cousins made popping
so many times,
augmented by its percussive
sound—a class act
derived from their balletic leaps
and robotic solo.
Was any of this your dream?
A kick and
staking claims on your life.
When is there never street dancing?
Summer begins its descent
and in the dark, I can see
your hulking frame
caught between the past
and the present—
the rhythms and passion
which was taking place on the streets
and in cities across America.
The seasons turn and I can hear
the lockings of an eager race,
finally mastering the small sharp moves
that delivered you from cruelty,
unbolting private alienations
as they build together
a fractured world
ODE TO SKEETER RABBIT IN THE YEAR OF POPPING
after Louise Gluck
I want to believe that dancing is life,
that popping is a hit & it takes a bunch
of isolating and rolling to scale up that
life-thick comic, that serve-me-long adventure.
How hard is it, really to notice
that with locking you will unwind like a
fresh twine into the happy well of your
middle age—I mean to say when the
night grows long and the presage of
undefined memories, the inscription on
your statue will read “a man with a top
hat—gave love with a good dance-feel.
Taught its tender sides; then called for
truce in the tight back stage.” Old friend,
impatient with bullies. For lack of comfort,
I reminisce, shortening moments, dreaming
slowly, haunted by your loving-kindness
and modern heritage, twinned fortunes
you alone possess. Like the cipher believed
to be your home and bed— still this is what
you cherish most: the rhythm lapse of slow
unmeasured night songs—the actual pain
of the world, everywhere. Your eyes teeming
with vigour as you sought them out—those
like yourself. And yet, more often preferring
those whose origins were never determined.
And it seemed to me I had nearly forgotten—
your desire to sustain tradition, to go back
to that time in your childhood, only houses
and street corners where you spoke
of dime stops. home? saviour? redemption?
after Jeff / “Live True, Dance free”
My relationship with you has never
been so great than a few days before
you died. Here lived Marjory Smarth
between 1969 and 2015 and boy,
she dances for herself, for the music.
So, the question remains: what to do
with all of your memories after I’ve
wrung them out. Not all dancers are
romantic but all your footwork is revo-
lutionary and lived through. Switch the
music from house to salsa. And it sounds
like you are carefully placing your
signatures in the universe again. This is
an elegy against memory. Not all small
moments end in sorrow and heartbreak.
Does Large Marj act like a child? Perhaps
it should be how she appears, beautiful
and angelic. You exist like the sun, an
afterglow in the middle of the club. You
make my heart warm without hustle—I mean
your salsa hop, a groove unlike any else,
insouciance and magical. Hey lotus—with
whom did you not share a part of yourself—
until the music speaks and the body is a canvas—
your word holds true, and it’s not too late
to say they mean a new life. Don’t ask how
yet; even now what reminds us of home is
worth keeping—your earrings, bright and
knowing, with their flags telling me about
what has survived—everything your loving
parents taught you as they squared your
bedsheets and touch your hair.
“In Loving Memory of Marjory Smarth”
Tell me from your life what isn’t dancing.
I study what is love: your body, the fluidity,
and the stage light. Nothing but joy. Being
alone, how hard I want to dance like you.
O earthbound mermaid, childlike woman—
Mother of all divine feminine energy. I dream
of a low windy evening. A night stripped to
unlatching hours, worn to fairy blues. There
won’t anymore battles if the pandemic drags
on until winter. But each year, I bear in mind
the following: a dance floor crammed with
black flowers, street jam and lindy steps.
Everyone learning how to be free and nothing
else in this wild hangout. You ask what I want
to be and I am wondering too. It’s hard to say
that in the back row, there are hustlers trying
to dance at each other. They chase and shuffle.
Above them, a set of voguers with their rituals,
a sequence of salsa steps, and I can hear their
phrases. I mean the salt oozing out from every
part of your body, and am nearly amazed of
how tender it is to hear someone speak so many
different languages—a dance salad, a whole
translucence of pure emotions, to remember
music as a refuge, the metronome of healing.
To lean against your life’s pursuit which keeps
on surviving— to map it out, to mention it.
All it takes is dancing again. So much endless
AWAKE, O LOTUS
“music carries a lot of memories”
Am I missing your spirit—
Am I missing your steps through their rotations
Memory is a tall, beautiful New Yorker girl,
Wearing a blue dress, with long dreadlocks
A universal dancer throwing in Charleston and
Lindy-Hop steps, steady along—
To be alive again, what might that mean?
Your body insisting on dancing, on blooming.
What splits from cancer gives me the fortune
to learn how dancing is a therapy, a pine-drop
seed stalk of hope, the pluck and throb of music,
the spoon-breath of another lotus springing
up from late fall.
I must give my whole life to your legacy—dancing
I mean, so much unravels but I can see in the distance,
Your footwork toeing across every street and inside
a shape and colour of traditions. We are still in summer
and the house clubs weigh nothing without you.
Towards home, I think of our conversations: how you
said the music is always the source and if you love the
music it will show in your dance. There is no separation
from music and people. High hat cymbals and jazzy rhythm
and the dance floor opens with sinuous bodies waacking
into endless acquainted freedoms. Where I see them is the
point of kin, soulful beings expressing moments in time—
a reflection of what you’ve always felt—no difference—
threads of your kind gestures thrilling young women with
glossy black tresses, a present kinetic verdict. The universe
is filled with your signatures, a recurrent soulful murmur—
I can’t recall a single dance class or sessions where we
don’t sit in the spell of your vocabularies. You drove through
curved dirt roads, past borderlines, to teach our hearts to
feel. Everything I have today, is not what I realise I will be
if not for you— the detail work for a dancer— boundless
rivers of joy speech. Truth is you will always be my hero,
from the moment I walked down the Peridance centre,
freestyling Ain’t Nobody. I notice you were clapping and
smiling. Can’t help thinking this has always been you—
O large Marj, the Queen of house dance.
HOUSE IS A FEELING
“She danced for herself, for the music…”
—Jihene - Paris, 2003
Every second street battle is
a shout out to your lotus steps.
Reborn hippy chick—the truth is,
nobody knew you would be gone
so soon. Walking across Manhattan,
up to the Bronx, and downtown.
These are the untamed hallways you
walked through. To this day, your begotten
children still bring that rage to the stage.
Again, think feeling and lineage—
The burden of your light is on us.
There’ll be no Saturday party tonight
And this seems like the newest answer to
an old absence. In this video, you are
wearing a red sleeveless top and smiling.
A gorgeous woman, that somewhere in
the world is believed to be a warrior
and a mystery all at once. Your arms
are out, as if saying to freedom, this is our goal.
Your feet are moving, the way your body
names its destination, the rhythms between
your legs. I look at you, joyful and think,
here is the true work of a dancer: to be
yourself and feel the music.
SISTERS ARE IN THE ROOM
“When I think of Marjory,
I think of the motion of the ocean”
These memories keep coming back,
with their fresh dreams and furbelows.
The internet keeps meticulous records
of everything, even your own laughter.
Hell, I could go online right now, and
check on all your videos every morning.
And if I speak of energy then I’m speaking
of you, my god-sister—the one who told me
to carry it always—my curves, how not to
be afraid to show myself, fully. Your upper
body so soft, loose, round and sensual.
You would be standing in front of a full room,
about to teach something. Then your eyes
would flutter—like the mistrust of happiness.
House is a style that starts with people being
people. Freedom and expression is the thread
of our culture. The songs we used to sing here
are rhythms tracing their ridges into our skin.
Everyone watches you and thinks ocean. It doesn’t
matter if they can’t smell the piney scent of your
mother’s tongue, or hum its gospel-y vibes under
their breath. Till now, your footwork has worldly
onwardness. They testify to the decades of slavery.
Tread bloodlines between this commonwealth of joy—
into the before-now, where the past and present
used to be.
Commissioned for Ink Cypher, May 2022
A response to Club and Street Dances by Larissa Clement Belhacel
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Ojo Taiye is an emerging artist and a dreamer. As someone who believes in the power of language, he is always investigating the imaginative potential of poetry to capture the minutiae of daily life and the natural world. Alongside working for a rural hospital, Taiye is a freelance writer for multiple magazines and organizations. His poetry "muses on power struggles, race and culture, the damage of capitalism, and the tender fragility of hope."
Taiye "ultilises the elegy in the inquisition of identity, heritage, mental health, language and memory."
"...[A] dream can clean a body like communion--" writes Ojo Taiye.
Taiye's book all of us are birds & some of us have broken wings was the 2019 Kingdoms In The Wild Poetry Prize selection.
In 2021, his poems was selected as winners for the Hay Writer's Circle Poetry Competition, and Belcoo Poetry Competition, Ireland. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in Rattle, Cincinnati Review, Banshee, Willow Springs, Lambda Literary, Fiddlehead, Puritan, Frontier Poetry, Stinging Fly, Notre Dame Review, Strange Horizon, and elsewhere.
He was recently selected to participate in Capital City Film Festival's inaugural Poetry Project (MI) and as a participant in the Poetry Ireland Introduction Series, 2020.