David Lehman

The Real Thing 


I don't agree

that dancing solves anything

except how to differentiate

between poetry and prose

the former being to the dance


what the latter is to taking a walk


according to Paul Valery

who felt that an artificial rose

was equal to or better than

the real thing. 

I love that phrase: "The Real Thing."

It makes me think

of Henry James's story of that title

and the Coca-Cola commercial

identifying Coke as "the real thing."

If I could write an essay on that unusual

conjunction of names and facts

in fifteen minutes, it's because

you can do a lot in fifteen minutes

such as wash your hands, change the cd

from Anita O'Day to Dinah Shore singing

"Buttons and Bows," and write twenty-five

lines, which for some writers equals their entire

daily allotment. Or you can dance.

The other day I discovered the beginning

of a poem from 1980 handwritten

on a piece of paper tucked into my copy

of William Gass's "On Being Blue."

The epigraph was from Rilke:

"Dance the Orange."

There are a couple of lines worth saving:

"Dance the skeleton on the doctor's desk."

"Dance the rabbi on one foot explaining the law."

Nevertheless I insist that

James Brown to the contrary notwithstanding

there's no point to it, nothing to gain from dancing,

and that is the great glory of the dance

though some might argue that dance

does have a purpose as the first step

toward mating and the reproduction of the species,

a complicated subject demanding more

than fifteen minutes, but as Ira Gershwin

wrote, I'm dancing and I can't

be bothered now.


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