How Will You Move: Including All of Us in the Dance
by Sarah Rosenthal
Regardless of the abuse or neglect we have experienced,
(membranes delicate; reduce possible harms; squirt needle up nose)
(17th and Shotwell, slumps on curb)
(Christine has us lie on backs, arms and legs spread, roll to each curled-up side)
(at Judson, performers looked at each other and the audience)
the core of our being––
(if tissue damaged, passages can’t absorb drugs; lengthen time between hits)
(empty needle held, body curved, grey T-shirt drapes bare left shoulder)
(we walk, slow then faster, rotate shoulders, swing arms, pause in any direction)
(they breathed audibly, ran out of breath, sweated, talked things over)
(flush nose; use water ampoules from the exchange––that’s what they’re designed for)
(rocking, moaning softly, pressing nostrils; white SUV inching in to right)
(plant any body part on floor––magnetizes or repels rest of body into movement)
(the performers began behaving more like human beings)
remains untouched and whole.
Easy to fall into judgment. This person is classist, that person is classist, all the classes are classist, the business class has published a report recommending a regional approach, are these the people to take the lead in solving the problem, business means profit lines pockets it’s up to each to grab and grub, meritocratic myth that those without are to blame, the report reports Bay Area residents rank homelessness the third biggest problem after housing affordability and traffic congestion, sitting in a jam worse than tens of thousands having no home, I hand out indictments daily blur gaze away from humans holding signs because what would happen if I gave to this person whose history I don’t know and don’t understand, what if they use those bucks to buy substances not for me to decide please stop revisiting this at 7 in the morning 4 in the afternoon racing to manage Monday Tuesday Friday can’t dilate to see my problems are someone else’s ice cream sundae with a cherry on top, refuse to inhabit person outside window holding sign saying Down on My Luck Anything Helps stepping between exhaust-exuding cars, eye contact means obligation, if I give now what about tomorrow stewing in my own little heartache machine carries me amidst 28,000-plus living without safety or comfort more than the population of half the 101 cities comprising the greater Bay Area with its cutting edge culture where the therapist yoga instructor museum exhibit support me in continuing to heal PTSD lingering from childhood in muscles posture amygdala hijacks per day keep practicing a different tune goes something like “revisit your original limiting belief,” heal, go way beyond healing make art, innovate, hold your own, your own hand write about those cool postmodern dancer women who broke out enlarged our world whether we know it or not whether we see art frees or at least documents our world today study dance rekindle kinetic gestures enter words reach to cells in reader’s body but can barely drag self to page after a week of hustling late to identify what the Buddhists call right livelihood while also taking all invitations to join the creativity party because I’m late no offspring so art will have to pass on my whatever while also trying to stay in relation to peers elders youngers who might visit my old folks’ home now and then give and take sponging in the jangled energy fall flat on couch for hours the Buddhists drone gently in my ear does this sound like one long excuse or an attempt to tease out the tangle in my heart each time I pass a houseless person for whom my troubles an ice cream sundae for someone on whom the cold rain pours hot sun beats others sniff at prey on or just plain ignore someone dragging their stuff in a cart blocking doorway makes a bad bed will you feel lucky if you get placed in a so-called cabin community in Oakland a so-called tiny home in San Jose the latest attempts to get folks off the streets off the banks of Lake Merritt where they pose an inconvenience for picnickers what if you do get some kind of housing and hate your roommate feel as some do this is a new form of prison people are pouring themselves into solving this crisis has complicated roots but we can certainly say continues to be served by a meritocratic myth that still has me in its clutches clambering up the ladder to perfect freedom of thought and action toward success don’t knock feminist ambition but does it compensate for early deficits does it fend off primal fear of being banished from the tribe better to practice falling down and getting back up falling down and getting back up falling down and rolling around keeping core low to the ground like dance teacher Christine says from that center leap out connect I’m saying let’s take that outside the studio don’t know how but that’s my platform that’s what I’m standing on what I’m running on running to I’m running I’m creeping I’m whimpering I’m weeping I’m laughing I’m hunching I’m mincing I’m dancing all the way over to you
untie knots unintentionally
torn and buffeted
u are not dust
when all fall
Cleave: what dance or any art does, slice through what separates us so we
Can: recognize other
Citizens: a series of them in a video responds to the question, how could the
City: compensate you for what it’s stolen via official sweeps; the answer is
Can’t: put a dollar value on pictures of mother carried in pack for years
Cecil and Janice: have said look at the person, don’t walk by, everything follows from that
Crux: that Jesus, this humanitarian
Crisis: not one big flash but slow wave picking up more and more humans,
Caging us: system logic
Cultivates: some qualities over others, war, what is it good for absolutely nothing except
Caveat: making billions of dollars, system logic for
Chaos: destroying people born and raised in Aleppo or San Francisco, displaced then shot by
Current: structures have plenty of fissures, not
Complete: and not total, revolution is what we make in the interstices, where hope lives
Notes on Source Material
The language about injecting drugs nasally with minimal harm is drawn from a slide presentation by Terry Morris, coordinator of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s Speed Project, at the 9th National Harm Reduction Conference in Portland, OR, in November 2012, hosted by the Harm Reduction Coalition.
Some of the language in “m” is excerpted from an observation by Trisha Brown: “At Judson, the performers looked at each other and the audience, they breathed audibly, ran out of breath, sweated, talked things over. They began behaving more like human beings, revealing what was thought of as deficiencies as well as their skills.” Brown said this in an interview that originally appeared in Contemporary Dance, edited by Anne Livet (Abbeville Press, 1982). I encountered it in “Against Expectations: Trisha Brown and the Avant-garde” by Ramsay Burt in Dance Research Journal 37, no. 1 (Summer 2005), p. 14.
“Regardless of the abuse or neglect we have experienced, the core of our being––open awareness––remains untouched and whole” is from from In Touch: How to Tune In to the Inner Guidance of Your Body and Trust Yourself by John Prendergast (Boulder: Sounds True, 2015), p. 125.
The poem includes notes I took after a dance class at ODC Dance Commons in San Francisco, CA, on April 7, 2019.
“the business class has published . . .” refers to a report by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute titled Bay Area Homelessness: A Regional View of a Regional Crisis, April 2019.
“revisit your original limiting belief” is from In Touch (86).
“will you feel lucky . . .” draws on news coverage of the houseless community’s mixed response to recent government initiatives to provide shelter, for example, Marisa Kendall’s October 2, 2018 article “Oakland’s creative homeless housing solution expands to popular hangout” in The Mercury News.
This section draws in part on the phrase “many may never have had a fully in-the-body experience” in In Touch (60).
. . . is for a conversation with Rob Avila, the morning of May 26, 2019 at a cafe near 24th and Folsom where poor and rich people crisscrossed in morning sun and many cops milled, prior to the Carnaval parade. (So many cops, relaxed sipping coffee and chatting, yet ever vigilant, on duty as they say, armed bodies encased in the bulletproof blue of potential menace.) Rob is a writer-thinker-activist who works at the intersection of art and politics; for several years he’s been immersed in the houselessness crisis as a staff member at Glide Church. What I wrote for c is based on and inspired by his responses to my questions.
“a series of them in a video” refers to the Stolen Belonging project, which documents the impact on houseless people of having their belongings confiscated during sweeps conducted in San Francisco.
“Cecil and Janice” are Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani, founders of Glide Church in San Francisco.
About Sarah Rosenthal
Sarah Rosenthal is the author of Estelle Meaning Star (Chax, forthcoming), The Grass Is Greener When the Sun Is Yellow (The Operating System, 2019; collaboration with Valerie Witte), Lizard (Chax, 2016), Manhatten (Spuyten Duyvil, 2009), and several chapbooks, including we could hang a radical panel of light (Drop Leaf Press, forthcoming) and Fire and Flood: Enacting Rehearsal as Performance (above / ground press, forthcoming). She edited A Community Writing Itself: Conversations with Vanguard Poets of the Bay Area (Dalkey Archive, 2010). Her short film We Agree on the Sun has received numerous accolades on the film festival circuit, including Best Experimental Short at the 2021 Berlin Independent Film Festival. She is the recipient of the Leo Litwak Fiction Award, a Creative Capacity Innovation Grant, a San Francisco Education Fund Grant, and writing residencies at Cel del Nord, This Will Take Time, Hambidge, Vermont Studio Center, Soul Mountain, Ragdale, and New York Mills. She lives in San Francisco where she manages projects for the Center for the Collaborative Classroom, works as a Life & Professional Coach, and serves on the California Book Awards poetry jury. More at sarahrosenthal.net.