JOSEPH MILLS

★ ★ ★ ★

POETRY

The Deep End


Keeping close to the safety of the walls, or milling around the concessions table, we
surveyed one another for signs – a tapping toe, a sideways glance – something that
might suggest someone was willing to dance with someone and that someone could
even be us. We had seen how when a song ended people came off the floor, exhilarated, flushed, different. Something happened out there, and we wanted it to happen to us.
We knew if we could just get on the floor, the deep end of adulthood, we would be
transformed, and we were convinced it was simply a matter of location, not skill. But
you couldn’t go out there alone. That would be weird. Even disastrous. You had to have
a partner – it required, like so many dangerous endeavors, a buddy system – so we
looked for a smile, uncrossed-arms. We thought that was the first step, finding someone
willing to move into the music. We wanted to be changed, and we thought that was all
it took.

In Jane Austen

The characters talk on the dance floor
as they weave intricate patterns.
There, in public, they can be intimate;
safe among family and strangers,
exchanging words and gestures,
complicated codes to be deciphered.

In our lives, we often dance in silence,
perhaps choosing to go onto the floor
precisely to counter conversation,
movement preferable to sitting at a table
and feeling the void between us.

And yet Austen got it right. Years before
Facebook, she understood how we like
to try out positions publicly, how
in showing control of our bodies
we think we’re demonstrating control
of our emotions, how we misunderstand
each other, gesture by gesture.

Austen understood the heart
needs a safe space to be exercised,
which may be where everyone can watch.

A Brief History of Time

The physicist explains black holes
by comparing them to dancers,
a partner in white and one in black,
on a darkened ballroom floor.
You can’t see the one, he says,
but you know they’re there
because of the way the other moves

and I wonder if there is anything
that can’t be explained by dance?
Any part of the universe
or human heart?

So much seems
invisible, an absent parent,
a dead child, but it’s discernable
to those carefully tracking our orbits.

A faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Joseph Mills has published six collections of poetry, including Exit, pursued by a bear which consists of poems triggered by stage directions in Shakespeare. His book This Miraculous Turning was awarded the North Carolina Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry for its exploration of race and family. In 2019, he published his first book of fiction, Bleachers: 54 linked fictions which takes place during a youth soccer game. More information about his work is available at www.josephrobertmills.com.

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