Gallery: Pole Dancing on the Axis Mundi

Sight & Sound

“Human life is observed as a series of balancing acts—in both mind and body—where gravity functions not only as a spatial, but also as an emotional and existential force,” says visual artist and poet Jacqueline Dee (Lewis) Parker ’84, reflecting on her mixed-media painting and poem that share the same name and concerns. Pole Dancing on the Axis Mundi considers that dynamic at the turning point of the world: the line through earth’s center.

Parker incorporated centuries-old sheet music and player piano rolls into this vertically dominant work, often painting or layering over them, resulting in a tactile quality. “These pieces have the echo of past voices that stimulate memory and association and give the image resonant bits of language,” she says. Though some of the lyrics are covered, the voices are not silenced. Parker jotted down language she liked in her journal, and mined this material for the poem, which also tackles the subject of gravity, balance, and time.

Poetry inspires Parker’s art, and vice versa. “I find my groove in the relationship between the two, riffing on those resonant moments,” she says. Her creative pursuits are so intertwined that Parker acknowledges having a synesthetic response to language, with letters and numbers assuming a colorful or physical quality in her mind.

The daughter of a violinist and an architect, Parker grew up in an artistic household that valued self-expression. At Sarah Lawrence, she concentrated in studio art and poetry, and she cites Thomas Lux’s poetry writing workshops and her study abroad in Paris as opportunities to challenge herself. “My experiences at school gave me the tools to stay curious,” Parker says, “and to keep asking questions.”—Patti Harmon

Accompanying Poem: Pole Dancing on the Axis Mundi

I.

Pole dancing on the axis mundi
Clad in air and a veil of hair,
Kali is any one and everywhere

interrogating history, prophecy,
testimony and will, cracking abstracts—
from pressure of her inquiry,

fissures snake slivers in frozen
now gushing gunmetal waters.
She dips a skull cup and drinks.

She, too, could be a girl at the shoal,
Skipping stones, pressing a coconut cheek
And salty ear to hear woes

wafting from blankets—complaints
about Eros followed by platitudes, dates
for squash or a glass of merlot.

A whirligig in a garden, the goddess
Spins agog, revolutions tempered
by the drag force of prayer.

Long fingers span the girdle at her hips,
breasts flush with a garland of lolling heads.
She licks her lips and opens three wide eyes,

climbing the vine, evening’s leave-taking,
verdant ladder on whose rungs each dream
hangs upside down, a tattooed bat.

A witch-mother hurls silver nickels
slicing tires, a snakeskin sedan spirals
tail-down a steep ramp of traffic and fires—

a painter hollers on a study’s
braided rug she kneels and shakes a canvas
upside down, two lemons, an inky black vase—

there’s a cliff, a glacial chase—corridors,
padlocked doors—a churning wave, a cup
of potent tea, a serially sexual fantasy—

Who‘s never flown off the sham in the indigo
hour of hissing cicadas, roused
by the succulence of her own sweat?

So explicit she can’t bear its reoccurrence
the rigor of a zinc white room,
bare as a strained egg. White walls, sharp shadows,

a linear repetition of straight edges
and fine lines, like notebook paper,
full of hot air, or lead.

Pulled contrapposto by a hound
in the leafy dark night, silent as a
sewn pocket she traces hieroglyphs

blackened by ink, a brew
of pine smoke’s soot, musk, lamp oil,
gelatin of donkey skin—

She sees one of the bereaved kneeling
in dirt, fashioning the funerary vessel,
a round-bellied pot on stilts, clay

mountain goat perched on its lid, worrying
terra cotta so the base scrolls slope
upwards, a skein of grief and desire.


II.

A girl on the rocks didn’t know
the difference between asparagus and rhubarb
and orders of operation threw her off.

At night minted light sprayed linoleum,
appliances humming dirges
on the pillow her cheek faced west

as the rose window points to paradise.
On tables, rockers, by the copper kettle and
Deep blue bottles, a cast worked the dark

drumming her pulse, strident as calvary.
She lay taut in the middle of the bed, a
thread primed for a needle—the clock’s staccato

hands rattling change on the dresser.
She cut a baker, a totem with lapis nipples,
a shepherd, a siren, a sage—

At once yielding and relentless, a fragile
psychic equilibrium, an unsteady gnomon—
a witness ephemeral as a rainbow—

The goddess devours secrets and conceits.
Her tongue protrudes,
She bites it—suffering another woman

spot her lover in line on a concrete plinth,
the sheet that enfolds him
smooth as limestone robes

draped over bodies in the Greek wing.
He gave the gods a run for their money—
alas, the hemispheres of his placid eyes

resigned. She’d played her part,
learned by heart, Either was
the other’s Mine.

She walked by the wormwood
ringing the river with a bucket of water,
pressed petals on her eyelids—

Her nostrils crowded with crude.
She stepped on the spokes of the medicine wheel,
28 splinters.

Yanking goose grass in the garden til roots
give way, she pictures a shallow bowl
in a museum display, memory’s handiwork

chipped and salved from the brink
of obscurity, excavated
from this same loose dirt—

She has a mind-stall to sweep, bitters and sweets.
She writes in wax with a stick of bone.
She draws with a fistful of swan and crow feathers.

A rusted baking pan filled with rain water.
She rested on a swing of olive wood, a
Carnelian bead warm in her palm.


III.

In broad strokes, in the grittiest
cityscape’s grillwork, baked bricks
and hand-painted placards,

a witness shuffles archetypes
like playing cards and loose change.
Folks knead bread, break it,

honor their dead—they tune strings,
count blessings
and minutes—

In the chain-linked schoolyard
Girls and boys ‘ring around the rosy’
til all fall down.

The conduit for now and when
charges in promises kept between lines
scraped by an engraver’s chisel.

In the history of a moan,
an understanding—and the pedestrian
hankering for a little something salted,

a bite and a spot to linger,
the shade of an oak planted
before the rutted roads were paved.

Balanced in this field of gravity,
resilience and despair,
Kali’s mounting circles,

the shape of perpetuity.
Labors score its cyclic measures:
A cave, a kiss, an epitaph.

The female idol
who lost her head
to sacrifice, found it

lodged on a slim metal pole,
facing sunrise
and the ossuary.

Each time chance tunes, she hears
a different pitch. Chords of harmony
or dissonance bleat, dicker

and sway, come hell or high water,
come teasing the marrow
out of hours.


Jacqueline Dee Parker

© 2011 James Dickey Review


From the Artist:

As an imagined point—or line—around which the world revolves, the axis mundi symbolizes the meeting of earth and sky, and connects material and spiritual existence. I’m moved by this idea of order in the metaphysical underpinnings of the universe. Composed from fragments of images drawn from dreams and journals, Pole Dancing on the Axis Mundi, is a non-linear sequence of events that move in and out of time and place. The Hindu goddess Kali, whose name comes from the Sanskrit word for Time, serves as the poem’s principal witness.