A Poem in Motion | Two Countries by Naomi Shihab Nye
I am writing less than I normally do today, because this- this is about the movement. Sometimes dance doesn't need too many extra words.
Several days ago I made myself go to the studio for the first time in about two weeks. Between plans with friends, teaching yoga, a bruised arch on my left foot and a general lack of inspiration or spark, I just could not be bothered to get myself into that space of creativity and movement. However, I decided it was time to break the lull, force myself to grab a taxi and show up for my work. I expected to spend just 30-45 minutes stretching and improvising, as I usually do when I ease back into choreography, but somehow I ended up in the studio close to two hours, until the sun was starting to set through the tinted windows and even then I was reluctant to stop. Something had hit me. The creative drive that makes me dance and feel alive in my own body was reawakened, all thanks to the poetry of Naomi Shihab Nye.
It is a beautiful thing when someone else is able to perfectly articulate something you have been feeling and working through for a while, but perhaps haven’t been able to express concisely. There is nothing more concise than poetry and Nye’s poem Two Countries from her book Words Under the Words enveloped together so many things I have tried to think, talk and write about, including several attempts on this blog here here and here. It is that complex exploration of being a body and a heart split between two worlds, feeling acutely the gaps between cultures and trying to merge what you can. This is what I have been doing either actively or unconsciously for the past 4 years since moving to Morocco and have wanted to express through my art.
Sometimes it helps to see the way an artist of another medium deals with a certain subject before you find your own way to do the same. The simple way Naomi Shihab Nye expresses this feeling of calling two places home through describing the different actions of skin is beautiful, eloquent and deeply accurate. Her words brought me much-needed inspiration to get my dancing self back to the studio, back to choreographing, back home in my own skin that is also now split between two counties.
Here is the phrase I developed for this particular poem-in-motion exercise, and you can read the full poem by itself below:
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a grey tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.
Skin had hope, that’s what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers— silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin’s secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.
From the book Words Under the Words, Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye