Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 29, 2017

Dime-a-Dance With Dame Despair



Dime-a-Dance With Dame Despair  – by Mark Nielsen, Aug. 29, 2017 


There used to be these dance halls

in the cities of America

where a guy could go in

and dance with a dame for a dime.

The big band would be playing,

the girls in pretty dresses

who worked there would be waiting,

and asking a doll to dance

took no confidence at all.

It was just a business transaction.

“Here’s a dime. Hold my hand.”


Sometimes I miss those days–

even though I wasn’t born yet.


So instead I’ve built a Brain Ballroom,

in the Man-hattan of my mind,

and I go there when I’m blue.

I dance a little.

I chat with my inner citizens,

catch up on the news

(which is seldom good,

since my own Mind Mayor is blind and boorish).

I listen to the band,

which is technically wobbly but always amusing,

and at least keeps a good steady beat.


Mostly, though, I doodle

on digital cocktail napkins like this one right here.

And in my doodling,

my over-cooked noodling,

I often wonder why I came back here again–

back to this shabby joint out near my private muddy river,

back to the Bowery where I no longer belong,

among bare-knuckled mugs and bums from Palookaville.


I thought I wanted out.

I thought I’d gotten out.

Maybe for awhile I did.

But Park Ave is no different than Palookaville.

They just put on nice gloves before they slug you.

So I slunk back here,

tail between my legs.


Sometimes it helps to be here.

Mostly it just kills time.

The million waves of dead,

unfruitful hours in my wake are mind-boggling,

but I try not to look backwards too often.


Meanwhile the dames I pay dimes to dance with

are various equally-flawed fantasy versions of me

–all maudlin and mopey,

all fake-happy sad and slightly lost,

all familiar to me because I’ve made them all up:

they all have my nose or my sense of humor or my love of Stravinsky.

They dutifully dance and listen to my litany of complaints

(complaints by me, to me, and often about me).

They dance to keep me company,

but I know they’re bored with me by now.

Isn’t everyone?


For instance, Goth Girl Gabby,

who is me,

is all tatted up, with a sterling silver post in her ear.

She seeks attention by being bad,

or at least seeming bad,

which is just her cover for being sad.

She’s a cutter,

and the blood gets on my zoot suit now and then,

but I don’t say nothin’

’cause we both already know the score.

I do the Pity Polka with Gabby now and then,

And it doesn’t matter

who’s pitying whom.

We take turns leading.


Then there’s Honey the Hick

–also me, mind you: a beautiful, self-possessed, simple girl–

but very elusive, of course.

Honey the Hick,

she does this trick,

where she puts her hands between her thighs

like a football center.

I grab those hands from behind her–

like the quarterback I always hoped I’d be–

and with a happy hillbilly yelp,

she kicks her leg backwards,

then over my head,

and comes back ’round to face me, giggling.

It looks fantastic

(to the crowd of onlookers in my mind),

and I feel like a million bucks every time she does it–

even though the only work I ever do

is holding on tight to her hands.

I’d do that anyway,

or even less,

just to be lifted off the floor a few seconds a day by that silly yelp.

But Honey’s dance card

is pretty full most of the time .


So instead I pick another lonely, more demure girl

from among the rent-a-doll dancers

waiting impatiently along the walls of the Brain Ballroom.

Then I listen to her sad stories,

we dance half-assed to a tune I don’t even like,

and I sulk,

dragging my feet,

plodding through less thrilling dance moves,

following the conventions of the day.

Together, this Soccer Mom Sadie and I

(still both me, both bitter and bored)

do the Telecom Twist or the Big Mac Mambo,

while across the room, Honey the Hick

lindy hops with a different guy in my head.

He’s the Not Me Guy,

(my nemesis, let’s call him Clark)

so of course he dances better than me.

And he sneers at me. The prick.

He’s taken over my own private ballroom.


But hey, what else am I gonna do?

Wait in line behind two dozen other Clark-Not-Mark’s

for Honey’s high-priced ten-second flight to freedom,

only to crash back to earth

when the next song starts and she moves on?

So I try to ignore Clark-Not-Mark and Honey the Hick,

but they’re real good

at making the rest of us ballroom bozos look pale by comparison.


I ought to tear down this whole damned joint.

But what would I build in its place?

Where would I go instead?


Besides– where’s the Me who will come home from the new joint with me

and hold my right hand, and not let go,

and then take the knife out of my left hand,

the Gabby hand?

Where’s the Me who can save me from me,

and from all the not-me’s,

inside and out?


It’s a rough neighborhood in here.

Plus I’m all out of dimes,

and running out of time.


— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

The following is an excerpted paragraph from the book Acedia and Me, by Kathleen Norris, which inspired the above poem [especially the bracketed typo, which spawned the above dance hall metaphor].


“The advice to blame oneself, a scholar has written, assumes that a person is already ‘anchored in an essential disposition which puts one at peace with God.’ Thus ‘there is no guilt complex, since the *me* being blamed and accused is in no way the authentic me, the deep me, but the apparent me.’ This superficial me may show a confident face to the world but inwardly is plagued by fears and compulsions, and remains blind to its true condition. All too often, it harbors an acedia that arises from on acknowledged anger and manifests as passive-aggressive behavior. Evagrius believed that acedia in its most dangerous form derived from a lack of self knowledge, ‘coming into being when someone does not perceive the meaning of his temptation and as a result fights against it without understanding.’ I am often without understanding in my attempt to navigate the [dance tickets] dense thickets of my good thoughts and bad. When I am mired in acedia, enthusiasm seems foolish and false. And it is no easy matter to spurn the comforts of pride even though I know that only a proper and balanced self-respect can free me to love myself as I am, and also better respect and love others. I am slow to respond to my heart’s wisdom, although I know that anything less is deadly. So, I struggle.”

-Kathleen Norris, _Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks and a Writer’s Life, pg. 139-140


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