Hearts at Work

A Column by James Tipton

“This longing to be beautiful….”


heart-bubblesAlmost twenty years ago I was wandering around southern Brazil. For several days I had been immersed in the mist and almost overpowering beauty of Iguazu Falls, actually a system of 275 waterfalls running over a mile and a half on the border of the Brazilian state of Paraná and the Argentine province of Missiones (the setting for a favorite movie, The Mission).

Feeling high from all of that beauty, I then headed over to the beaches (there are actually forty two of them) on the Brazilian coast at Florianopolis. Again the beauty was almost overpowering, but this time it took the form of thousands of young Brazilian women, almost all wearing colorful thong bikinis. In Brazil the popular metaphor for these bikinis is fio dental (dental floss) and in Spanish speaking America, hilo dental.

Well, being over fifty, all of those beautiful buttocks were actually making me feel faint, and so largely for survival, I stumbled along the sandy shore to a strand of beach where I thought I could catch my breath alone. But there, cavorting in the waves, was a woman, still young, skinny, with a less than ordinary face and body. No one would ever call her beautiful. I watched her a long time. Often she would look toward shore to see whether I was watching her. Sometimes she smiled. Some months later, I wrote these lines about that woman:

 

I watched at low tide your breasts rise.

I watched every effort that you made

to be beautiful for me. Even though

I was a stranger, your body moved

for me alone, like the hope

that moved behind the mirror

that did not find you beautiful at all.

 

As I studied her, I thought about her longings, about the longings all of us have; I suppose one even finds those longings in people the world agrees are beautiful.

 

What a strange thing, this longing

to be beautiful, the sweet pretense

and secret weeping, the doubt inside

that rose against the right you had

to boldly wear that pink bikini

and walk alone on what you thought

was beach deserted.

 

At what age did you know—

for certain—that you

never would be beautiful,

never shine yourself

into the poems of lovers,

never have the sultry bliss

that beauty by itself can bring?

 

Being given toward contemplating possibilities, I conjured up a fantasy about a life with this young Brazilian woman back in Colorado:

 

I took you home in thought

that moment by the sea

and lived a life with you,

your homely face casting its desire

each winter night by candle,

your body arched

in clumsy grace and love.

 

But I did not tell you this,

I did not speak at all,

pondering your sweet attempts

to bend and search for shells,

to move with all the sensual delight

your awkward dreams could teach you.

 

Now, months later, this autumn night

in Colorado, I write this awkward

poem for you—some clumsy art

I struggle with—because

that longing in you

was so beautiful and pure

you touched this tired heart.

 

Always in search of the beautiful, that particular day I decided that that young woman, so filled with longing, so lonely, so left out simply because of her lack of ordinary beauty…was where I found beauty on that day. Her longing to be beautiful was beautiful to me. I take a quiet pleasure in the thought that she was perhaps the only woman that day on those beaches of thousands of beautiful woman for whom a poem, a love poem of sorts, was written.


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#1 Allen 2012-05-04 14:22
Thanks Jim for reprinting this beautiful reminder that even longings can be beautilul.

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