Butoh Dancer

— Barbara Saxton

Clothed in little but tattoos, dusky faint

beneath white powder, like continents

viewed from above through swirls of cloud,

wrapped in penitent’s brown burlap,

beige codpiece held in place by braided rope,

the butoh figure crouched — feline, intent —

just listening and preening, while bowed gongs,

twirling teacups on taut drum skins, sonorous bells

called him to dance.
His restless, hairless body, double-dusted

in white paint and powder, one scarlet smudge

of paint over his open mouth, slowly stood upright.

Lines drawn around his eyes grew darker

as the orbs themselves rolled back. Wide holes

where earlobes used to be formed question marks

on either side of his bald head.
Would merely watching him

provide much-needed answers?
Eyes beg him to dance closer, while lips

warn mutely: Keep your distance.

He is the dead and living, or something in between,

defined by music’s power to transform.

Everyone who loved and left us has returned

in this seductive, writhing package.
We’re safest when he’s seated on the floor,

pale legs akimbo, arms and fingers wrapped

around his head, trapping love and terror in,

reflecting nothing back at us.
Eventually, the so-called music stops.

Our dancer leaves. Outside the hushed room,

a door latch quietly clicks shut.


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