Dancing with Myself: Candy Fits

The protagonist of Dancing with Myself has a problem common to would-be or soon-to-be lovers: stomach cramps, “butterflies.” Why this may seem interesting is that, in the context of the sonnet sequence, the protagonist’s butterflies confirm that he is not as old, weathered, and eternally resigned as he might appear to himself to be. He is still open to dynamism, change, and outside influences impinging on his consciousness. Keats’ Psyche is simultaneously a woman, a goddess, and an ideal (Beauty); the female Muse for Dancing with Myself is just a woman, who, as down in the dirt and close to the earth as Psyche, is also perverse, a schemer, and an intellectual. She is more sophisticated than Psyche, if also more corrupt. The Dark Lady archetype, at the other end of things, steals from this Muse some of the more germane things the protagonist sees in her— intelligence, refinement, human gravitas, soulfulness. This human gravitas, a profound sense of human foible and frailty, is one reason the protagonist here feels his guts churn— this Muse is a formidable one, not merely light like Psyche, or merely dark like the Dark Lady in Shakespeare. She is a complex personality, forcing complex contexts to manifest around her, also forcing those who deal with her intimately to wrestle with their own complexities. The whole syndrome, laden with a healthy dose of out-and-out lust, spells itself out in “Stomach Flu”:

It’s like, I have a virus
in my guts that forces
me to puke you up every
time I eat anything tasty.
I puke, shaking through.
I know what I need to do—
stop cigarettes & coffee &
booze & toffee & all things
that seem excremental
when lust for life has gone
rusty. Your increased bust
has made me allergic to
cherry flavored colas, syrups,
brandy, candy fits, & shit.

Part of the quandary would seem to be that this protagonist has a difficult time dealing with the extreme approach to physicality of his Muse. We have already spelled out what the subtext seems to be (and why this poem might end with “shit”), but the deeper ramification of the subtext for the protagonist would manifest here as his queasy sense of attraction/repulsion to her. He is, thus, confused by the acute emotions evoked by an insatiable mistress he only half understands. The association of love and sickness is conventional, as are the end-rhymes employed here, which make this one of the most musically striking sonnets in the bunch. The two mini-catalogues, of different sensual enjoyments, heighten the sense that what the Muse here represents to the protagonist is severe, ecstatic enjoyment in dichotomous relation to equally severe, ecstatic (as in, jumping out of one’s skin) discomfort— all the result of sexual transgression, of boundaries being crossed. The torque on Shakespeare is that, rather than tormenting the protagonist with another man, this Dark Lady torments the protagonist with what she is willing to do with her own body, and her unique relationship to physicality, and to intercourse. Perhaps the protagonist has the guts to go through things with her and do as she asks, perhaps he does not— it is obvious that he wants to, but equally obvious that he holds up the proverbial cross to her vulpine energies, and the sense that she sucks the life out of him with her brazen, experienced demands, which make him feel like a naïf.