“Olympia” by Jackleen Holton

Jackleen Holton


The news has gone so far beyond absurd
that I can’t watch it anymore; the little boxes
with their talking heads all talking
about the same damn thing. So I switch
the channel again, let myself be mesmerized
by the swimmers with their exquisite butterfly
wings, the way their bodies undulate
through the water, rising open-mouthed,
as if in praise, then diving down, making it seem effortless.
And I’m reminded of Leni Riefenstahl’s film Olympia,
documenting the 1936 games in Berlin,
and how, as the movie progresses, the athletes, in shadowy
black and white, leave the stadium behind, turn
godlike, their sculpted bodies blossoming
like time-lapse flowers in the sky.
Yesterday, scrolling down my Facebook feed,
I read about a woman in Missouri who saw Donald Trump’s
likeness in a tub of butter, the way once-upon-a-time
somebody was always glimpsing the Virgin Mother
in everything. But there it was, the face
I see in every other post, bubbling up in the yellow
spread, bulbous mouth frozen mid-holler.
The swimmers in the individual medley form a graceful V
like a flock of soaring geese, the pool morphing into
Riefenstahl’s majestic sky. I have a friend who can see
the spirit animal in everyone. For her, every trip
to the grocery store is a safari. But I understand it now,
watching these swimmers mount their blocks;
this one’s a gazelle, that one, a panther.
Leni Riefenstahl loved Hilter. Her beautiful films
were the glorious Aryan face of his regime.
And before the ceremonies began, her camera lingered
on him, his right arm raised to a surging sea of outstretched arms.
Though the mood is festive, her chiaroscuro
montage takes on the somber tones of history.
But today, I love the swimmers for what our animal bodies can do
when the spirit wants it enough. I lean forward as the one
in the middle lane closes in on the world record line.
Someone strung up a confederate flag at a Trump rally
yesterday, which, I told my husband is exactly what I would do
if I were a protester: I’d disguise myself as an asshat,
hoist it up and wait for the cameras.
But of course that wasn’t a joke, either.
Riefenstahl disavowed the Nazis after the war,
but I wonder if her love lived on in some secret bunker
of her heart where she only dreamed in black and white.
Another record is broken, a new medalist stands
on the platform. I can’t help it, my eyes well up.
The lady in Missouri says she thought for a moment
about putting her tub of butter on eBay
to see what she could fetch for it, but in the end
she just wanted buttered toast, so she dipped a knife
in, and handily scraped away the apparition
of that little, angry face.

Poets Respond
August 14, 2016

[download audio]


Jackleen Holton: “The Trump campaign imploded this week, although it has been headed in that direction for some time, and although the media continues to milk the sideshow for ratings. If there is any symbolic meaning to the butter sighting, it may be, as Jan Castellano, the woman who found the contorted face looking back at her from a tub of Earth Balance said, she hoped his campaign ‘melts away like butter.’ But that can’t happen if we continue to give this candidate our attention and energy. Meanwhile, the Olympic games provided a welcome, sometimes inspiring distraction. While the precise nature of filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s relationship with Adolph Hitler was not known, she did praise him effusively in a letter she wrote during the war, and she benefited greatly from the Nazi regime in a way that only a few individuals can with such a system in place.” (website)

Rattle Logo