Monday, June 21, 2010

Once Upon my Feet: Returning from War (3rd of 3 poems)

Once Upon my Feet

Our daughters sketched tango dancers
With red and black crayons.
At the early milonga they'd draw.
I always promised them both a dance,
Yet they would cut-in all the same.
"Daddy is it my turn now?"

The little one danced upon my feet.
But at any pause, she'd show her strength.
She'd clean her shoes on my pants,
And gancho with a smile.

Her older sister had grown into her own style.
She liked the sweep of her feet with mine.
"Daddy, barrida!" was her whispered cue.
And I obliged with a sweep or two.

They're gone now, and a man answers their phone.
My wife, just another not waiting for her soldier's return.
I dreamed of six arms holding me near the plane.
War was easier than watching other families embrace
And then returning to this empty place.

The tangueras who know me, know why
I need their embrace;
Why I hold their hands as I do,
Watching as theirs settles in mine.
They know my hurt and how their
Walking-embrace at times is my only solace.

Afterword: This is the last of three poems that I dedicated to veterans of combat.
  • The first was a single man with PTSD.
  • The second, a female soldier devastated by sexual assault of a battle comrade, whom she thought she could trust.
  • And finally, this poem, a story of parental alienation.
I have sons, not daughters.  This is fiction but all too real.  People who know me and have read all three poems have noticed that these poems are not my usual style.  They are poems with less of a sense of hope and light than usual.  But the light comes from the community where the power of a human embrace has power to heal and make God's touch known.

Perhaps these poems are dark. War is dark.  The nightmares and the two to four hours of sleep that combat vets often get make for a dark life. 
I do have hope and see wonderful changes, but the tides of oil-soaked souls keep coming up on my shores. I love my work, and I am NOT burned out from this work. I am invigorated by it. But do you know how tragic this is to have a nation at war; yet, too few know the real price?  The malls are full of shoppers, even as we are at war and complain about having the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. 

I wish that our nation was as concerned and distressed over all of the oil covered souls washing ashore as much as the environmental devastation in the Gulf of Mexico.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cumparsita of the Soul (the second of three poems)

Walking-Embrace, Searching

I met her at a milonga some months back.

We danced often, but I did not know.
Her face had a concern I could not read.
A friend told me she was a combat vet.
I left it to her to tell me more if she'd like.

Early to the milonga, we danced alone.
pause allowed her to speak.
"I want you to know," she said... and paused.
She searched my face as if for the words.
"I am here to find my soul."

I wondered if this were the over-statement
Of how tango, like just another fad,
Had become everything to her, an addiction.
But she had a seriousness, all the while
A yearning, that someone understand.

"I left my soul, my friends say, in Iraq.
I know I left my trust of men there...
With a battle buddy whom I both mourn
And despise from his false embrace,
From his forceful violation of my trust.

"And then as if my fury had its own power,
He died, in a burning convoy truck the next day.
And now I fear even my own anger,
As if it had the power to kill.
I know anger cannot, but I fear mine can.

"He and I were close, two wild animals
In a tree waiting for the flood to pass.
Our alarm clock was mortar fire.
Our welcoming party was the laughter
Of AK-47's and radio chatter in Farsi."

"But when a fellow soldier
Became the enemy too,
I had no refuge, no place to turn.
He stole even my mourning at his death,
...the bastard, the stupid bastard!"

She lightly pounded my chest,
Half-given to our tango embrace.
The DJ, half-cocked her gaze at us,
Wondering why my partner was in distress.

But the music played on.

"Walk with me." I said.
Was it just her tears or was she melting
Into my chest and crying the melody?
Her embrace became a primal hug,

As if she were inside of my chest, weeping.

Again we paused.
With red eyes, she apologized
For her work of art on my chest--
Watercolor with mascara
On black canvas and tie.

We danced the third song of the tanda.
At song's end, I did not let her go.
I held her near, and voice-to-ear whispered:
"Your soul is still here, very near.
You did not leave your soul in Iraq.

"You would have to return there to find it.
Many try and fail; your soul is here.
The many people who love you
Store your soul in their hearts for you.
Visit their hearts and you will find your soul."

We danced three tandas that night.
Each time I danced as simply as I could:
A tango walk, living and breathing
As soulful and steady
As the bellows of the bandoneón.

The last tanda of the night.
She had stopped weeping.

She stopped me mid-Cumparsita.
Peering in my eyes, "I found it!" she said.
"What? Found what?"

"My soul. It's timid and doesn't always stay.
But it has visited me tonight."
As we danced, I wondered if she felt
The wet irony of the tears on my face,
Which I cloaked by our close embrace.

I was once told that a tanguero
Becomes a true tanguero
When a woman weeps in his arms.

But that is not true.

A woman weeps when she has found
Her soul in the simplicity of a walking embrace,
And the primal hug which cradles it.

This is the second of three poems, dedicated to soldiers.  Only one out of ten women, according to the Department of Defense, report sexual assault out of fear of reprisals and worse problems while they are deployed.  Of those that do report, many say they wished they had not.

When I meet these women, they sometimes complain that their difficulites are minimized by both male and female soldiers, doctors, therapists.  The biggest tragedies begin upon their return.  This story is a collage of stories.  There is no actual soldier tanguera with whom I have danced -- at least as depicted here.  But I have experienced the weeping on my black shirt, and it truly is all about finding one's soul. 

Tangueros/tangueras:  I hope you can appreciate the power of tango.  It is more than a dance, a nice community of people:  It is a walking-embrace, searching for the soul that sometimes gets away from us. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Chasm-Embrace (first of three poems)


She called me "her knight" before I left.
We would dance all night, holding tight.

Then a tanguero from the City came.
Since then I felt an absence in her presence.
I heard it in her voice a long-distance away.

Returning from war, I felt her change.
A gap in our milonguero embrace
Grew with each tango we danced.
And jealousy began to devour me.

I could not hide my sadness and doubt.

When I saw how she melted in his arms.
My jealousy made the chasm-embrace grow,
But try as may, jealousy had its own power.
She said I was a different man from war.
Her combat with loneliness had changed her too.

The tanguero from the City has left,
But now the ruins of our castle stands
With cracks in the walls and a waterless moat.
The ruin walls are jagged and bleak,
A mere marker of a history that once was.

The grand room, once full of friends,
Is now a refuge for goats and a mule.
The floor where we danced is now only grass.
I had to leave, and find another village to escape,
Vanquished and in exile by Sword of Love-Lost.

I haunt each milonga now, my only refuge left.
The thirst I have for a moving embrace!
And for one tanda at a time, I forget who I am:
A knight without a castle, defeated after battle
Only the bandoneón understands my tears.

Only the embrace of friends gives me solace... en mi soledad.

This poem is dedicated to the soldiers whom I know at Fort Hood who come home and their children and wife have disappeared with a man from "the City."  The largest casualty of war is relationships in ruins.  Many men come home still alive but their souls are forever altered as much from the war as the ruins of their marriages/engagements.  This poem is not about me, but about the suffering I see in my office.  This is a first of three poems dedicated to warriors.  Another poem will follow dedicated to the women warriors I know and help as a therapist.  The last poem will be dedicated to men coming home, finding their children gone.

If I could prescribe one thing, I would wish they could know the power of the moving embrace, which I have found in tango.

Art Credit:

Sunday, June 6, 2010

I Feel Blame in Your Embrace

¿La Culpa es Mía?

A favorite tanguera of mine wrote on Facebook, "Great tango vals class with Fulana today. She is very precise, and places the onus where it should be: on the lead."

I hope so much that it is not too late to convince my tanguera friend that believing such a statement will eventual suck every bit of joy out of her dancing.

Teachers that find it necessary to blame into the dance hurt both leaders and followers. Women who place onus on men create performance anxiety.  In the long run these ladies will not get what they need on the dance floor or in bed -- or in life.  Men will get in an argument which they will not win because so much responsibility is theirs.  Yet, isn't blame childish?  At least it is uniformed. Modern tango is a conversation, and blame is not a part of an enlightened conversation.

The Onus Theory is an educational, pedagogical theory.  Please prove this theory with a demonstration of 100 women.  If the onus is truly 100% on the lead, 100 women (trained or untrained) should execute what the perfect tanguero leads with precision.  The Onus Theory is also an anthropological theory:  The study of human behavior and the interplay of roles.  Again, the onus or burden being alone on the male role is uninformed anthropology.  Poor politics, poor marriages, poor work environments, poor production levels, poor team sports -- all are based on what this teacher has espoused in the Onus Theory.
I feel blame in her embrace
Nothing has to be said.  I intuit the woman who believes this uninformed (but oh so handy) Onus Theory.  I am forced to focus only on the music and the community of dancers around me because I am dancing with a ghost.  The typical Onus Woman will either find her joy only in teaching or give up tango within seven years, I believe.  I feel truly sorry for her.  She is the classic victim.  "I am not having fun, and it is his fault.  Tango is no longer fun for me.  I quit."  The burden was on him to keep her joy of dance.  Her tango is already soulless before she gives it all up.  I feel it in the way she responds, the way she looks at me, the way she is not fully present. 

The tanguera who wrote the above words is not that kind of woman.  On the contrary, she is wonderful.  She melts her right hand into my left like few women I have known.  She gives herself fully to my embrace. The last time I danced with her she even apologized and said she hadn't been able to dance much because of a tragedy in her life, and she said she could feel my improvement.  Yet, evidently the female teacher so impressed her that she started to believe the myth macho of tango:  "Me Tarzan; you Jane.  I talk; you listen."  It is not Organic Tango, which is a sharing of the dance "conversation's" success not a burden on one role. (See a definition at and my own at

Only the Hard Headed Survive
Tango has a high drop-out rate because of the feeling of an onus both on women and men.  They leave and never come back.  In salsa that is not true at all.  It is better for me when there are more leaders.  At the last milonga I danced with nearly every women.  I sat out two tandas.  There are simply not enough leaders.  Is it the onus they feel?   The woman has a hard task -- just as hard to learn as the man's part.  But why the blaming when things go "wrong"?  Even these "wrong" moments have created things like volcadas. 

Taking the Onus Seriously
Lately, all of the classes I have been going to are full of men trying to get better.  Where are all the women?  A tanguera explained:  "Well, I don't know why, but many women get to a certain level, and then they enjoy a free ride with the good male dancers."  Another onus?   At least in my town, men are doing their best to learn their role.

Gentlemen:  If you are blaming your partner, putting the onus her to get your lead, you needn't say anything.  Ladies:  If he is entirely to blame for why his lead was not clear, you need not say anything.  Your partner can feel it in your embrace.