“Rita Moreno, say” by Joseph Mills

Rita Moreno, say

Certain words have begun eluding her.
She may know the one she needs,
the name, say, of a famous actress.
She will know the films she’s been in,
and she can see her face, her dancing,
hear her voice, but she can’t remember
the name.
It’s not that she’s forgotten it,
not exactly, but that she can’t get to it.
She feels almost as if she could push through,
like when her shoulder catches then pops,
but she can’t.
She can’t think of it.
She can’t.

She tries to circle to it. There’s something
about America. She stands in the kitchen,
swaying with her arms over her head,
and her children, if they see this, are charmed.
They love how she dances at her age.

Later in the day, or week, the word will return,
like a pet that has run off and then is found
curled on the front porch. She’ll be relieved
and she’ll keep checking that it’s still there,
saying to herself periodically, “Rita Moreno,”
writing the words on pieces of paper
reassuring herself the forgetting meant nothing,
trying to ignore the growing pile on her dresser,
scraps of language refusing to stay still.

A professor at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Joseph Mills will publish Bodies in Motion: Dance Poems in the spring of 2022. His book This Miraculous Turning won the North Carolina Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry for its exploration of race and family.