Isadora Duncan #29 by Abraham Walkowitz

Movement Modalities: Nia Dance Poem

Nia Dance Poem

With thanks to Karen, Maria, and Robyn

These first rare steps on the enchanted floor:
soft as sand dunes beneath your bare feet.

Words, dear words, bubbles of music:
humming sitar, buoyant drum.

Touch now, touch,
feel the ball of your foot shift the load toward the toes
as the heel lifts, a slight puff of wind — poof!

Step, sway, cross over and swivel and plant the foot,
waggle the tail, rock the hips’ intimate cradle,
oh, exactly as oceans rock,
cry in the throat as seagulls cry,
piping plovers, sand, fresh winds,

and still all around you will lift, swirl, and turn,
rise, pause, and bow down,

a whole roomful of women cresting and levitating
over the soft ocean of the enchanted floor.

— Mary Ann Barton

Isadora Duncan #29 by Abraham Walkowitz

Glossary for this poem

Movement Modalities, a new series beginning today in the Joyous Paradox blog about my search for creative ways to add more movement to my life. I’m thinking of all movement forms as potentially healing, hence the use of the word modalities, which we often see in caregiving as the way a health condition is diagnosed or treated.

Nia Technique, a movement practice whose teachers are licensed by Nia Technique, Inc. According to Nia’s website, “Nia cardio-dance workouts combine 52 simple moves with dance arts, martial arts, and healing arts to get you fit in 60 minutes — body, mind, emotion, and spirit. Nia is practiced barefoot, non-impact, and adaptable to individual needs and abilities.”

The humming sitar in the poem is a metaphor for the way the pulsing, soft-rock dance music played in my Nia class sounded to me while I was dancing. For the literal sitar of Indian classical music, see Wikipedia.

The enchanted floor refers to the soft, interlocking floor tiles used in the yoga studio where I took the Nia classes that inspired this poem. I have arthritis in my knees and neck, so I’ve been wary of fast-paced, aerobic activities that might be too high in impact for my 65-year-old body. Stepping onto the soft studio floor was a pleasant surprise. So far, so good.

Photo from Staff Favorites Best of Nia

Image credits: (Top and Middle) Isadora Duncan #29, watercolor and ink over graphite on paper by Abraham Walkowitz, American, ca. 1915, via Wikimedia Commons. (Left) Staff Favorites Best of Nia © Jeff Stewart Photography. Photograph provided by Nia Technique (

Note: I am not receiving any compensation for mentioning Nia or any other practice in this series. — MAB


Poem: Grandmother Cellist


The Sense of Hearing by Philippe Mercier

The Sense of Hearing by Philippe Mercier, oil on canvas, 1744-1747, via Wikimedia Commons.

Grandmother Cellist

For Joan Esch

Grandmother cellist,
play tonight your deepest,
most foundational sound,
your wrist drawing arcs
with the bow, your fingers
endearing themselves to the strings,
unending resonance, unending.

Dear Grandmother, you with these
young players, I know you are overheard
by someone in the kitchen,
her hands in hot water,
scrubbing the reek from a burned pot
after supper. Your arc of notes —
heard, too, perhaps, upstairs,
in some mother’s sick-bed;
she’s lying in after the birth.

Did you croon to her in labor?
The infant, released at last
from her body, crying
in this new world of breath.

— Mary Ann Barton


Today Love Asks Questions

Editor’s note: My husband and I are celebrating Valentine’s Day, so I wrote a prose poem, “Today Love Asks Questions.” The painting that inspired the poem is Koekkentrappestor (Kitchen Stairs) by the Danish painter Kristian Zahrtmann, painted in 1908, via Wikimedia Commons. — MAB

Today Love Asks Questions: A Prose Poem for Valentine's Day


Today Love Asks Questions

Today Love asks questions in the garden.

“Would there be someone in my life, dear heart, to come upstairs for embracing? Could it be you, my love, my heart? Could it be you?”

And then, because the sun shines, because the pots of salvia and lavender climb the steps, because the shadows love the reflections and the reflections enliven even dark spaces, because the woman sitting at a table at the end of the terrace wears a peach-blossom blouse, because the yellow petals make such a brilliant marriage with the terracotta clay pot next to the doorway, then Love answers her own questions:

“Yes. Yes. Yes.”

— Mary Ann Barton

Dear Readers, I’m Writing a Book Called Rest

Purple paisley stretching out from yellow ground, by Mary Ann Barton. Inspired by Zentangle: 06/25/2012January 1, 2014

Dear Readers,

I love writing the Joyous Paradox blog for you.

Tonight, I’m so grateful to be sitting at the big mahogany desk in our little office off the kitchen, drinking ginger tea with soy milk under the attentive gaze of my stuffed-animal friends Kathybear, a venerable teddy bear, and Georges l’Oiseau le Chapeau, a vibrant plush hat in the shape of a parrot.

It’s so cold outside — a reminder that we’re in the Northern Hemisphere here in New England, where January is the middle of winter. It’s so warm inside, except for my feet, which are cold. I should put my shoes back on, but I like writing in stocking feet. Sometimes my therapist, Rebecca, sits cross-legged in her chair, leaning forward to emphasize a point she’s making, her shoes lined up neatly beneath her seat.

So yes, I’m writing a book for you called Rest. It’s a book of readings and resources for caregivers, a collection of pieces about finding the rest and renewal we need in order to be there for those we love. Or even those we don’t love. Or those we used to love but can’t imagine having loving feelings for again because the demands on our strength and attention feel so unrelentingly present.

As a caregiver who works with elders in their homes, I’ve found that one of the best ways to take care of myself is to connect with the beauty that surrounds me, even in the midst of stress and sorrow. I’m going to use some poems and short prose pieces from this blog, as well as offering new material. Some of the pieces will be refreshing and even sweet, and others will acknowledge the pain and hardship that crops up in life. I’m hoping to include beautiful illustrations in the form of public-domain paintings, as well as questions for discussion and writing prompts.

In this new year, I’ll be writing on two tracks: the short, week-to-week blog track in this space, and the longer-term, book-length track at my desk. I may ask for your help with ideas or images for the book, so if you’ll keep that in mind, I would be grateful. In the meantime, may we all find what we need to slow down, reflect, restore, and renew the spirit.

Faithfully yours,

Mary Ann

Image note: Purple Paisley Stretching Out from Yellow Ground, an informal, Zentangle-inspired drawing by MAB.

What Matters More?

Portrait of a Young Woman Holding a Cat by Francesco Bacchiacca

What matters more,
the word or the image?

What matters more,
my life or this breath?

Perhaps the heart beats
in the mind
as well as the chest.

Perhaps this cat
resting beside my heart
feels soft to the touch

because the skin remembers
how to speak to the mind

and the mind remembers
how to feel.

~ Mary Ann Barton

Image credit: Portrait of a Young Woman Holding a Cat by Francesco Bacchiacca, oil, 1525. Francesco Bacchiacca [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s note: For an amusing modern comment on the painting, see Portrait de Jeune Femme Tenant un Chat at Pictures of a community of people who care about cats.