KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 12: Summer 2019
Tanka Prose: 745 words
in [7]

Get Up and Dance:
An e-Collection of 15 Ekphrastic Tanka Prose

by Charles D. Tarlton
[7] Variations on a Theme by Bill T. Jones

Still photo by Paul B Goode from Story/Time by Bill T. Jones


CARMODY: I never had you figured for a dance man.
BLIGHT: You were distracted by my spindly legs.

The big stage resembling a basketball court was subtly lit, and people were still slowly making their way to metal folding seats. In the center of the stage wooden girders were piled awkwardly, propped against each other, as if they were being stored or had been discarded. On the left side, a mic waited in shadows. Before long, a woman came out from the dark and sat before the mic. The lights went very dim and then came full up. The woman’s singing came slowly to fill the room as a bevy of dancers appeared as if by magic, and began to frolic in full circles around and around the stage.

all expectant thus
we waited, watching dancers
circling, announcing
transport to another place
their springing an alphabet

each one’s words written
cursive, made from large letters
scrawled by twisting bodies
arched in their exotic lexis
words torn from their reaching arms

like the aching sounds
of tongueless, mute suffering
silent leaps and falls
scratch desperate messages
in the sand like ghostly birds


CARMODY: I have had the recurring dream of flying,
had it since I was a child.

BLIGHT: “Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not,
neither do they reap, nor gather...”

The music stopped and a silence fell like sheer shrouding over everything; air suddenly became substance, falling over and between the dancers, who hurried on, their feet scuffing across the floor, their leaps adding to the soundless weight beneath which the dance, now driven from within, kept on with increasing frenzy, with each higher jump staying longer in the air. We waited now only to see if they would fly, so, we didn’t notice the tall black man, stripped to the waist, enter slowly from the left, strike a perfect fifth position, just before he ran to the pile of wooden girders and flew over them, turning to face the audience from his apex in the air and, having landed, walked slowly off.

birds will talk about
what it’s really like to fly
up air so solid
it holds you high above clouds
where whole worlds become whispers

high in Balsam Fir’s
green limbs, thick and reaching out
you could swing backwards
one below, to another branch
your world turning upside down

try to imagine
you’re up in a pirouette
just spinning around
like an antique Duncan top
at the end of a long string


CARMODY: (melodiously) Have you ever seen the silver
grand jeté over the weir?
BLIGHT: I don’t really have to go there, do I?

Gradually the number of dancers on the stage grew and the music came back, augmented now by recordings of urban sounds, the staccato of a marimba against the car horns on a city street. The dancers formed a whirling gyre in the center of the stage which gradually widened to the edges. Then the cyclone pattern collapsed, and the dancers formed into smaller groups of three or four, each group now inventing, it seemed, their own dance interpretation to the cacophony. Someone was passing out grammar-school musical instruments to the audience—tambourines, cymbals, silver triangles, and tin kazoos. To the final din of all that uncoordinated sound, the dancers hefted the wooden girders and carried them off. The stage was empty, but the noise went on.

dancing makes you dream
making up your own music
to the steps and bends
were you wishing for a trombone
at the height of your Saut de Chat?

making dances from
movements of everyday life
stepping out of cars
going up and down the stairs
hanging wet clothes on the line

banging wooden blocks
scraping on the güiro gourd
shaking the jingles
blowing plastic recorders
murmuring through the kazoo


1. Still photograph is by Paul B Goode, of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in performance of Story/Time at Cal Performances in February 2012. Pictured: Jennifer Nugent (forefront), Erick Montes, and Bill T. Jones (seated). Link was retrieved on 13 June 2019:

Goode’s photograph also appears in a review by Claudia Bauer, “Bill T. Jones’ Story/Time, in the San Francisco Chronicle (28 February 2012); link was retrieved on 13 June 2019 (scroll down to page 73 of the PDF, or simply run a search on the name “Claudia Bauer”):

2. “Behold the birds of the heaven...” Matthew 6:26, the New Testament

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