October Poetry: "In Step" by Sasha Pimentel

October 4, 2017

Image credit: Solveig Osk via Flickr

“In Step,” our delightful October featured poem by Sasha Pimentel, carries us briskly with its tempo in vivace to the end of a 500+ word poem, which turns out to be, almost metaphorically, two long sentences that never end. The poem swings effortlessly in this textual dance with addicting contre-rejet enjambments to consider the body, youth, marriage, and above all, desire — the desire to “write like Rita Dove,” to “[know] the world is just about to give / you everything you want.”

This bright poem can be found tucked inside Pimentel’s National Poetry Series-winning second collection, For Want of Water and Other Poems, forthcoming later this month. The harrowing context of the book, which refuses to turn away from the physical and emotional terrors experienced by women globally, adds weighted context to “In Step” and threatens to burst the bubble of the couple who dances “before every other couple sliding // between daycare and news of beheadings.”

— Eugenia Leigh, Poetry Editor 

In Step

When my husband and I tried dancing lessons, we began
to realize how brittle our sacra, how we were wired

to our feet like blocky marionettes, our spines pulled down to the noncompliant
coccyges, and we braced ourselves together in squared embrace

against the clock, each sneaking our private
count of the minutes before it would be over, the male teacher swaggering

with his practiced Elvis-cum-Saturday-Night-Fever pout, lips
inflated over the upper teeth, and his gold chain swinging on his neck

to tint his skin, which was dark, for a white man’s, and it was
6:23, more than an hour and a half of this: —him ironing my husband’s palm

into my back as he danced behind us, at least two minutes more until the other
teacher would find us, tapping too, her fingers

on her wrist, 1 2 3 4—1 2 3 4—faces of couples
sliding by and swooning, especially the young

Yoga instructor and her Philosophy professor, each just young enough
to tangle over the other like grape vines with their wrapped ballerina

blouse, their just-graying sideburns, and their 1 2 3. We were dancing
because I’d wanted to write like Rita Dove: I had done what women do, had asked him to

give me this, imagining something more, moaning
one morning as I curled beside him, said let’s try it,

as if to try would equal, simply, a quiet locking of the hips—and I was tired
of watching our dark students move our living

room table at parties to show us the cumbia, pulling one another furiously and just at the edge
of their own characters developing elbows and nostrils, liquid

with each other’s comings and goings, damp when I thought I had smelled the want
for new book contracts—something dank and sweet, because

such is the smell of knowing the world is just about to give
you everything you want—, and I was tart too entering the university

gym with my husband, holding his gray hand in my wet one and proud
that in just nine weeks we would show all our students—just sort

of dance, like surprise, like when the geeky guy in the movies
takes his glasses off, and a strip of sweat bubbles

above his lip like caviar, before he angles to the object
of his desire, who is kinky-haired and beautiful, and only slightly bitchy in the beginning (later

we find out she has commitment issues, she’s been molested by her father,
or she’s poor, she doesn’t have all her papers)—but that like this, two

people should come together in rhythm over any swollen floor, matching tips, counting
together, four years since we’ve been married, three since I sunk my womb, maybe two

more to wait until my body can bear
another, and us now here before every other couple sliding

between daycare and news of beheadings, telling my husband and me as we stalk
our house of shoes how their children have opened their fists, or it’s time

to go home!, and our students, dancing together and knowing
better how to hold the slick helix, our male and female

teachers both twisting behind us, showing us with their pendulous
bodies how our own should be keeping their tempo—:

Excerpted from
For Want of Water and Other Poems by Sasha Pimentel, A National Poetry Series winner selected by Gregory Pardlo (Beacon Press, 2017). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.


Sasha Pimentel

Sasha Pimentel is the author of For Want of Water and Other Poems, a National Poetry Series winner selected by Gregory Pardlo. She is also the author of Insides She Swallowed, winner of the 2011 American Book Award. Born in Manila and raised in the United States and Saudi Arabia, she is a professor of poetry and creative nonfiction in the bilingual MFA Program at the University of Texas at El Paso.