10.4 / July & August 2015

Tango Series


Fire smell in your hair.

I am your shark, he sings, my foot voracious, burning in my joint as you open up, twist into the elegant crease of your waist, turn, curls flying, step right back into my arms’ closure.

I am your heart your shark.

The steps vanish beneath me as the violin drifts up my spine.

My hand planted beneath your shoulder blade, a firm stone against the velvet. I migrate across vertical plane and rock.

One shelf, to the next, handhold in the precarious stumble of my poor knees, my back unsure of its bend.

My cheek leans into yours in the suede of a rock-n-roll tiptoe, my cheekbone lands, a sliver open between our lips.

My feet march like they never do, driven between your legs, a firm twist onto the open ledge.

Accordion breath through the shoulder girdle. Leather straps reach backward. The lasso that tugs you, in time, into the beat, strikes me, the force of a boulder in its socket. Snaps shut.

My legs open wider as I step, again, free arm vibrating with the weight of your warmth, the heat of your palm driving down to connect me, mountains and all, to a rhythm that unzips my hips.

We sway. And then we move, glide, eyes closed, over the smooth wood, into the ascent.



Asymmetrical lean away to alleviate inflammatory processes.

Spines protruding into the melody’s gap.

Glottal rhythm hiccup and veering off downward and out.

Fingers out in the air one moment then in dense flesh, deep, kneading into soft tissue firmly closed into fascia shield.

Hitch in the line spreads into continuous erosion and depletion of cliff faces and crumbles hills, rolling dunes along the silk road, shift shift shift.

I cannot find comfort.

Behind the beat and my step is hesitant, lock hip into place and open my hand on the indigo flank a prayer of one more breath, one turn, one Calder mobile floating in the music’s wind before smashing cold into the concrete.

I cannot get up.

Now music runs away on the toes of the sax shrilled oboe sliding brass tinned into ear and hollow behind my knee.

You are not in the hollow, or in the hand that cups bone and there is nothing, you are not there and no pillow.

Air does not insulate, no heat flows over into the contracted point, the straight razor articulating the bend in the joint, overshooting its target and hover hover over the sorenesses and my loss.

There is nothing.

Your hand shifts into alien country. A bar on a rogue red planet. The rules are lost, deeply buried in sand and crystals despair unmet passing ghost on the other side of the mountain.

Music ends.


The piano player plays with the stethoscope pressed to her chest.
The piano heaves into its first sigh.
She monitors herself.
Behind her, rows of audiences swell into her back, breath pushing forward and back, and her heart is pressed.
The hammer sinks, felt muffles the clear line, and she attacks with all the fingers of her hand.
Waves of oxygenated blood travel down the paths of her breasts, fine capillaries suffusing tender tissue.
I can see her nipples lifting up to me, across the chair arm’s hard divide.
The feel of these delicate stems in my mouth draws water.
My tongue circles and the breath sucks inward, a gentle pull on rose skin, her breath above me thrown backward, throat exposed.
There is heat, and then the violin pulses into the piano’s sound, drawn on the horsehair string, swinging wildly into the orchestral space.
Contained. Open.
The rhythm accelerates slowly, as the sound of breath and heart mount in the riffs of red-lacquered fingertips and the sideways pull of a tender wrist.
Two dark heads of hairs, one silvered, dip like swans at the fall’s beginning, a low curve into darkening water.
Her hand wanders deep into mine.
Palms align into touch.
Heat swirls out from the uniqueness of her rills and valleys.
My own desert land.
My shadows melt into the orange evening sun.
Wings unfurl into night sails.

Petra Kuppers is a disability culture activist and a community performance artist. She teaches at the University of Michigan and on the low-residency MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Goddard College. Beyond a collaborative book of poetry (Cripple Poetics: A Love Story, with Neil Marcus and Lisa Steichmann, 2008), she has published poems and short stories in journals and anthologies like Visionary Tongue, Wordgathering, Beauty is a Verb: New Poetics of Disability, textsound, Streetnotes, Festival Writer, Accessing the Future. The second recording of Fire Smell is a collaboration with Misha Penton. She is a contemporary opera singer, artistic director, librettist and lyricist. Her work explores the intersection of new music performance; new opera theater; soundscape composition; and bel canto and extended vocal techniques. She is the founder, artistic director, and ensemble lead artist of Divergence Vocal Theater, a Houston-based opera, new music and multi-performing arts project-based ensemble.
10.4 / July & August 2015