I met her at a milonga some months back.
We danced often, but I did not know.
Her face had a concern I could not read.
A friend told me she was a combat vet.
I left it to her to tell me more if she'd like.
Early to the milonga, we danced alone.
A pause allowed her to speak.
"I want you to know," she said... and paused.
She searched my face as if for the words.
"I am here to find my soul."
I wondered if this were the over-statement
Of how tango, like just another fad,
Had become everything to her, an addiction.
But she had a seriousness, all the while
A yearning, that someone understand.
"I left my soul, my friends say, in Iraq.
I know I left my trust of men there...
With a battle buddy whom I both mourn
And despise from his false embrace,
From his forceful violation of my trust.
"And then as if my fury had its own power,
He died, in a burning convoy truck the next day.
And now I fear even my own anger,
As if it had the power to kill.
I know anger cannot, but I fear mine can.
"He and I were close, two wild animals
In a tree waiting for the flood to pass.
Our alarm clock was mortar fire.
Our welcoming party was the laughter
Of AK-47's and radio chatter in Farsi."
"But when a fellow soldier
Became the enemy too,
I had no refuge, no place to turn.
He stole even my mourning at his death,
...the bastard, the stupid bastard!"
She lightly pounded my chest,
Half-given to our tango embrace.
The DJ, half-cocked her gaze at us,
Wondering why my partner was in distress.
But the music played on.
"Walk with me." I said.
Was it just her tears or was she melting
Into my chest and crying the melody?
Her embrace became a primal hug,
As if she were inside of my chest, weeping.
Again we paused.
With red eyes, she apologized
For her work of art on my chest--
Watercolor with mascara
On black canvas and tie.
We danced the third song of the tanda.
At song's end, I did not let her go.
I held her near, and voice-to-ear whispered:
"Your soul is still here, very near.
You did not leave your soul in Iraq.
"You would have to return there to find it.
Many try and fail; your soul is here.
The many people who love you
Store your soul in their hearts for you.
Visit their hearts and you will find your soul."
We danced three tandas that night.
Each time I danced as simply as I could:
A tango walk, living and breathing
As soulful and steady
As the bellows of the bandoneón.
The last tanda of the night.
She had stopped weeping.
She stopped me mid-Cumparsita.
Peering in my eyes, "I found it!" she said.
"What? Found what?"
"My soul. It's timid and doesn't always stay.
But it has visited me tonight."
As we danced, I wondered if she felt
The wet irony of the tears on my face,
Which I cloaked by our close embrace.
I was once told that a tanguero
Becomes a true tanguero
When a woman weeps in his arms.
But that is not true.
A woman weeps when she has found
Her soul in the simplicity of a walking embrace,
And the primal hug which cradles it.
This is the second of three poems, dedicated to soldiers. Only one out of ten women, according to the Department of Defense, report sexual assault out of fear of reprisals and worse problems while they are deployed. Of those that do report, many say they wished they had not.
When I meet these women, they sometimes complain that their difficulites are minimized by both male and female soldiers, doctors, therapists. The biggest tragedies begin upon their return. This story is a collage of stories. There is no actual soldier tanguera with whom I have danced -- at least as depicted here. But I have experienced the weeping on my black shirt, and it truly is all about finding one's soul.
Tangueros/tangueras: I hope you can appreciate the power of tango. It is more than a dance, a nice community of people: It is a walking-embrace, searching for the soul that sometimes gets away from us.