This Lotus is a Rabbit:
10 Poems as Tribute

Ojo Taiye

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—

Skeeter Rabbit
 

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

only popping

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,

and cool
popping
machinations.

You sit in a hard-brown
wicker chair,

one of the ones reserved for
the judges or moderators.

Your eyes, charming
but not enough to hide your guilt.
On the right—no,

opposite—
a human beat-box with a microphone.

This stage,
how well you know it—
this boogaloo,

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
rows
down

from me,
holds your body on some distant, undiscovered echelon.
They must still be around

somewhere,
those old memories
beside the window,

the bed—
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

shuffle hop

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
without borders.

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?

THE WAREHOUSE

after Jeff / “Live True, Dance free”

—Marjory Smarth

 

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.

EARTHBOUND MERMAID

“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

energy.

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

--- Sekou

 

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

 

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. 

 

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Ojo Taiye