After Fernando Botero’s “Dancers at the Bar”
Botero’s critics ask all the time, why the obsession with fat? Never once considering the alternative
obsession with volume, with hoard and out-measure, a multiplicity that stretches the skin
as taffy. To want to be everyone in the room at once. Instead they reduce Botero to liking fucking
fat women, or they think perhaps the women are political.
This is a body postulate.
La Gioconda for instance, so large, that the famous secret she carries in her smile
now seems small in comparison to the girl, and so we are allowed to imagine her
in other forms—twelve and posing for so long she urges to go back to the vineyards
where she can pluck fresh reds and greens from the branches and nap behind laurel.
This is a body positive.
That we can exist beyond what we feel, beyond what we do with our hands
when we are nervous.
In so many paintings, the Botero girls are dancing. Unchecked by gravity’s pull, the thing that brings
the apple falling from the branch—it does not touch them. Not the brunette,
cruder than a Rubenesque, with her leg lifted straight in the air, like that of Iberico
on the banqueta. In another painting the girl pirouettes and pirouettes having trained the eye
to center on one spot with each spin. She is the shape of a conch, folds and flaps spiraling in on
themselves, the ocean in her hold. Each girl performs her own alchemy, where she moves
the body a negative distance and this is offensive to people who have never
driven all night to see someone who would not open the door.
But to dance is to believe in the negative distance. Is to believe in
a body posthumous,
which is actually something quite like the opposite of a body. No, not ghost but shadow.
Even my nightmares are hinting at some deep vanity. In them; hair shorn off at the scalp, teeth
falling into an open palm, the recurring one where I am seven and storming out of ballet class,
not because of size but because of space. The impossibility of moving through it with any sense
of so called grace, never lithe, never able to fit into molds thrown from clay.
All I wanted was a body that would bend toward light like lilies.
A body open enough to hold one long note, that could carry through the ages.
Like the organ in Halberstadt playing the longest song in history. Slow stretched strokes
that will still be playing when I am dead, that listened to over time, from far away
might be a melody, might be the last melody this planet makes.
Rilke lived his life in widening circles. Marquez lived off bone broth and cigarettes,
a wraith in a world of stone. We were playing a game of either or. Both choices left me en–
jambed by the physical. Maybe I could spiral into something of beauty.
Could widen enough to let you walk through me with ease. A shape is just a shape until
you choose to focus in on detail. We were stoned and I was finally dancing after so many years
of no dancing. Someone kept saying look at my hand, as if when we looked it wouldn’t be a hand,
but a tree, or a bird stuck in a tree. And when we finally did look what we saw
was round and endless,
the body prominent.
Jessica Hincapie is a poet and educator living in Austin, TX. Bloomer, her debut collection, won the Louise Bogan Award for Artistic Merit and Excellence (Trio House Press, 2022). Her work has received various awards, including winner of RHINO Poetry’s 2024 Founder’s Prize, a 2022 Cuttyhunk Writers Residency, and finalist for Radar’s 2020 Coniston Prize judged by Ada Limón. You can find her poems in Denver Quarterly, Sonora Review, Narrative Magazine, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, and other publications. Visit www.jessicahincapie.com to read more.