Art – Poetry – Al Weems and Jody Zolli

For our 2017 Art & Poetry pairing, one pairing was with photographer Al Weems and poet Jody Zolli.

Here are the works they created!

Al provided this photo to Jody:

In response, Jody wrote the following poem:

Dance Lessons

She taught me to dance
Her lessons inescapable, undeniable
Started early in wordless arabesques
I cringed and curried favor
Learned to agree, wild-eyed
When she proffered her litanies:
I could never understand how hard her life was.
Proffering my wit, my wisdom, my wonder
Each time she stormed in
From a Long Hard Day
I would stand at attention
When I heard the key in the lock
Every nerve a raw antenna
For her unspoken demands.

What steps would defuse her, dissuade her?
What pirouette would please or placate her?
I would bear the scourges
Determined to prove myself worthy
Of her love, her sacrifice, her tolerance.
I was born difficult, placenta praevia
The cord around my neck
Delivered caesarian while my sister
Underwent hip surgery halfway across town
My father shuttled back and forth, exhausted,
And my mother slaved for months over
My newborn self, my sister in a half cast
As her sutures healed.
I always knew I was inconvenient
So I danced daily to please her
What steps would work today, what knots
Would be best to tie myself in?
Knowing full well that if she had to tell me
I’d already lost the game.
I was to be quiet, agreeable, unquestioning
Cheerful, witty, clever
To work hard, justify my existence
Everything must be earned
So I paid the piper daily, dearly.

That was the start of the choreography.
Next we removed my needs from the equation
I learned to bite my tongue
Much easier that way to please
She was always always always right
So I learned to do for her, care for her, live for her.
In the end, I no longer noticed
That I was being danced
Day in and day out
Encores endured across the decades
Her demands the tune that drove me, tirelessly
In new and complex directions
For which she, of course, took credit.
The music stopped when she did
Leaving me lost and breathless
Continuous motion in a pair of red shoes
I can neither still nor silence.

The second half of this pairing involved Jody giving Al a poem as a starting point. Jody provided this poem:

Slow Wheel

What drives the seasons’ slow wheel across the year?

How do barren February trees sprout small red cocoons
To silently burst feathered leaves in spring?

Rooted in moist, fragrant moss, what
Furls and unfurls ferns over time
Like slow motion party favors?

What inflates the spongiform flesh of mushrooms
Without benefit of sunlight or even the smallest blessing?

What mystery sends insect-seeded galls to sprout
Among branches that reach a full foot further than last year?

How does a finely petaled flower exude
The delectably soft swelling
Of an improbably large plum or peach?

Is it some concealed mechanism? An inner clock
Pressing hidden hands forward? Or a magnetism
That invigorates all things?

Is it just the moon’s vast intangible pull
That causes sap to rise and roots to run?

Perhaps a sacred underground estuary
Pumps life through stems like straws.

Whatever causes the silent sizzle of the sun
That lifts leaves and fronds and fescues
And summons twigs and needles from nothing

Also beckons brambles and spiky thistles
Combs cockleburs from the ground, reminds us
Nature demands only obedience, not beauty.

In response, Al created this photo:

2017 Art-Poetry Pairing main page