Yes, We Are Still Dancing by Susan Amstater, Connie Dillman, and Jacquelyn Stroud Spier
(Frontera Women’s Foundation, El Paso, TX, 2010; distributed by the University of New Mexico Press)
Yes, We Are Still Dancing is a paperback coffee-table book with every single page in full color. It is as much an art book as a collection of poetry; it is like paging through a family album bulging with sketches and paintings in multiple media (pencil, watercolors, acrylics, oils, you name it), layered onto fabrics and papers of various shapes and textures and hues. It is a book that fans of art quilts and scrapbooks are likely to find appealing; I can think of a number of women in my own life for whom it would make a great gift, especially since proceeds from the book are “to fund an Arts & Culture Endowment to serve those pursuing the arts in the Borderland.” Some of the poems are presented in Spanish instead of English; at the back of the book, there are Spanish translations of the poems presented in English and vice versa. Spier’s bio mentions that she grew up in a bilingual household, having been born to a US man and a Mexican woman (the latter “came to the border to escape the 1910 Mexican revolution”).
As Dorothy Ann Leach (the editor of the poetry) indicates in her introduction, Amstater, Dillman, and Spier are each over sixty years old, and each “a wife, mother, grandmother and so much else besides.” Some of the illustrations feature silver-haired women chatting over coffee and demonstrating dance moves; others depict little girls befriending rosebushes and riding horses. Other visual themes include flowers, birds, votives, beaches, religious icons, and babies. The colors are bright and the patterns busy; the effect is that of an artistic fiesta.
The diction of the poems tends toward the personal and accessible. The women narrating the poems are physically active and aware -- very much "still dancing," as the title poem declares, "our bones quaking / our hearts thumping." In "Redwoods Wonder," the women "walk over bracken" and ask the trees to "teach us how to be patient." The figures of dancing women accompany the text of "Stalkers," in which "we're cherry tree pickers / greedy mouthed women / who know when a thing is over." "Persimmon" depicts two sisters in a grocery store who "tango / the periphery of childhood." The narrator of "Uninvited" recounts what happened when a neighbor's cows invaded her yard:
I removed my sweatshirt and broke into a run
waving and screaming the cows out the gate.
What a celebration! What a joy the heart released.
The neighbors gathered outside
witnessing, the Goddess Diana
in her bra and jeans.
The physical infuses the metaphorical: in "Words took a hike" (titled "Meditación del rancho fantasma" in the translation), the parts of speech inhabit the southwestern landscape. Among them:
Adjectives and adverbs
until the hot breeze blew them free.
Conjunctions connected us
to the raven
the heart to his caw caw.
There are meditations on relationships: "Soft Purr" praises "men who love women"; "Wedding" is a portrait of a man who overcomes paralysis in order to walk his daughter down the aisle, "showing his wife/how a poem finds its way." There are confrontations with aging:
We can't tell our children
the turn we take. How we empty
our closets of all the ruffles
and slits up the skirt.
The blouse with drapes wide open… ("Repentance")
And, near the end, there is a two-page spread that shows three paintings of a rose -- as a bud, as a fully open bloom, and as a wilted remnant; the paintings are framed like a film-strip sequence and face a page on which pressed rose petals and leaves have been placed. The poem on the page, "Outside My Window," presents some of the speaker's thoughts about death, encapsulating the entirety of Yes, We Are Still Dancing in its feisty self-assessment:
For the time it takes, grieve.
But remember I was the rose bud and a rose.
I rode a bicycle on and off the path.
I danced on the edge and teased death "dance with me."
Peg Duthie is the author of MEASURED EXTRAVAGANCE (Upper Rubber Boot Books, 2012).