“Bolero” by Timothy Daniel Welch

Timothy Daniel Welch


It was 1979. There were a few orange tree orchards left
in Orange County. John Lennon lived. I was careful
like the mole digging up the front yard. I emerged
from the dark hallway, barefoot, it was Sunday.
I turned on the TV and was careful to mute the sound.
And I believe you have never seen Bo Derek in a silent, empty
living room grow bright from a warming cathode
running along a Mexican beach, her one-piece flesh
colored swimsuit against oiled, sun-marked skin.
And I was careful, I was alone, and I checked behind
me, looking for light from under a door, listening
for the squeal of a hinge. Then a motorist lit
up the front windows and drove on. I hit the off switch
tingling like static from the television discharge. I never learned
how others do it, but I learned to look at women privately
and in private, my eyes coming through a dark tunnel
to a throbbing kind of light, as out of a hole. The old
throbbing of analogue beauty unscrambling
in front of me, a terrifying pose. It was so strange how
afraid I was of getting caught: of getting caught looking
at slow motion Bo Derek, at lounge chair Bo Derek,
piña colada Bo Derek emerging from the water. Afraid
of those beaded Mexican braids, staccato on her shoulders,
white sand at her feet, the salty swell of the gulf pulsing
on the sombrero end of the world. I was afraid for a long
time, a child of some in-between, and years would go by
before I could make any sense out of that sexual fear
that came from just looking and the thrill of just looking.
And years would go by before I watched Blake Edwards’ 10
again, watched Bo Derek in bed with Dudley Moore
while they played Ravel’s Bolero, what Ravel mockingly called
“an orchestra without music,” a piece that when first performed
had women falling from chairs while crying Stop, stop I’m going mad!
It was the indecency of the rhythm, the impropriety
of the tease, the long and overreaching crescendo, the lack
of a satisfactory tonal resolution that may explain
the great success of Bolero and the even greater success
of sex in the 1970s, it might even explain Dudley Moore’s
nickname, “The Sex Thimble,” or explain how I had searched
for something as frenetic and unattainable in my girlfriends
for so long, forcing each of them to run along the beach
in perverted judgment, wanting something that was incapable
of satisfying even the Sex Thimble in me. An orchestra
without music is sex without love, but how the orchestra
still plays whatever notes they’re given, and they need to play
to finally understand what music is when and if it finds them.
And I can’t help but see how all this made Bo Derek a sex icon,
and her perfect breasts would go on to be smothered in honey
and licked clean by young Arab men in later films. So
it happened when I was in bed with my wife for the first time
and she turned her back to me at the moment she removed
her blouse and bra, pulled my hands to her chest and said
that her breasts were small, and she would understand
if I didn’t want to keep going. Because it never occurred
to me that sex could be such an act of courage, raising
a baton until the figure of brown hair pouring upon me
became the syncopated overture to the rest of my life.
And these were the greatest breasts I had ever seen. I asked
if she wanted to hear some music, I had just the thing.

from Rattle #40, Summer 2013


Timothy Daniel Welch: “As a music student, I attended a performance of Ravel’s Bolero that helped me realize, despite their obvious differences, the arguments of poetry and music are the same. Ever since, I’ve ambitioned to apply my love of music to the music of love: to arrange the strings, the winds, and the horns behind the single drummer that Ravel places front and center. My desire for the poem ‘Bolero’ is to undress that graceful drummer as she beats her snare. As a writer and a husband, I hope to continue to listen as I write, and to love as bravely as I’ve been shown.”

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