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Waltz for Body and Water

A Poem by Laura van Diesen

(Lightly swung, cantabile)

The sea is all uncaring mouth,

but still, speak to her. Step into the shore,

worry the edges of her conversation—


she is always talking about the moon

(about her or to her,

I can’t make out the syllables,

but they both are never silent).


She goes back and forth,

and the moon maybe leads.

Maybe takes her by the hand, and leads—


Oma says she knew how to dance

when she was my age.


I think of a waltz, where my partner

would lead. I follow the tap of his feet

on the village hall floors.

We practise again and

again, like the sea does.


The sea and the moon

have been together

for longer than waltzing.

(I know the sea for that

back and forth, that pendulum swing;

all the grooves of it.


I know how it is to pace in circles.

I know the sea for her



Trace the outline of the coast with body and

know how she devours.

How she twirls hair like

seaweed, just to braid

into the seabed.


How she would do all this, and

still talk about the moon. Reply.

Whisper to the rocks that once sank


to her stomach


(they mutter to themselves about
when they were Giants, and how she

has changed them.

Something about the fire, and what

has been taken—


the dead flesh of a volcano,

and they’re still talking about a fire

that happened

when the sea was young,


but I know about limerence. I know

about coldness).


Talk. Chatter like a baby bird,

Hop over a sand dune. Learn the

rhythm of the coast.


Find some sea glass and pretend

it is a gift. Speak a secret into a shell,

hope that it gossips.


Of course, I think about walking in.


Sea teases me,

stepping closer, then shying away.

I get caught in her magnetism.


I don’t know how to lead,

and the sea foam giggles at my clumsiness.

She won’t listen, only laughs—

she won’t teach how to lead or

be led without

consuming me.


Instead, I listen and
talk, until my heart beats in



I know a friend

who knows someone

who sold an old house that had footprints

worn into the floor in

sets of threes.


I thought it would take centuries to scar wood

into the rhythm of a waltz,

but it turns out, all you need is constancy.


I dig my feet into the sand,
but I know I cannot be so permanent.
I get led astray. The waltz ends.


Line 12 -  Oma is the name for grandmother in Dutch.

A Statement by Laura van Diesen on her process

I wrote Waltz for Body and Water after noticing the rhythmic patterns of the tide at the seaside, being inspired to depict the gravitational pull of the moon and its effect upon the tides as a dance. Waltz is part of a larger collection titled ‘Mother, Earth,’ which challenges how literature historically only feminises nature when it is ‘gentle’ to illustrate the notion that women are naturally docile. On the beach, I found igneous rocks that might be millions of years old, and wanted to depict how the sea not only transcends human history, but also the traditional attributes of gender. By mentioning a dance I might have learned if I was born in my grandmother’s generation and feminising the sea, I intertwine human narratives with forces of nature, so the patterns of the tide represent the gravitational pull of convention.  

The speaker is a distant observer of the ancient relationship between the sea and the moon, unsure of how to place herself within either human tradition or nature due to the vastness of both. The depiction of nature as gentle is therefore subverted by presenting the sea as powerful and consuming, just as how women may be metaphorically consumed by traditional narratives of relationships and ideal femininity. I visually imitate the swung rhythm of a waltz and the patterns of tides through my employment of form. It also implicitly imitates the swinging of a clock and the ‘back and forth,’ of the speaker with the concept of time and the patterns of human relationships. The left side begins as a set of performance instructions, yet the right side struggles with these, and ultimately culminates in the waltz ending. It is not so much the ‘end’ of tradition, as the sea’s tides continue, but it signals a possible beginning for the speaker, away from traditional ‘dance.’ This is likened to Fleabag’s quote ‘it’ll pass,’ as the devastation of having to wait for love to ‘pass’ is associated with the emotional energy necessary to walk away from the gravity of tradition.

Back to BoundBy: Desire (Edition #4)

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