The Hop-On Hop-Off Poem
by Jacalyn Carley

Get on here, get off there,
this is a hop on- hop off poem.
No windows on the trip, you’ll need
an audio guide to see.
Where are we?
You’re in me. Welcome aboard the $10 tour.
Settle back. Ear buds plugged?
Language chosen? You hear
knees knocking?
They’re mine. $10, this tour
de force inside, I said, of me.
It’s a tour of me body, of mindless
pine barrens, bulky
mountains, with whole
states of swamps and neon lures
on liver-fed quicksand.
Lean back, trust the audio guide
as we begin by whitewater rafting
an artery. Helper verbs race by.
On your left, proper nouns are beached
like leaky banana boats. Let them rot.
You riding the force? You one with it?
Relax and enjoy as we move on
take out your ear buds, stop
beyond syntax, here at still waters, hear
distant muscles chanting.
Ahhh. Powerful adverbs eddy,
and their suction
is pleasant. Look around. Have you
always assumed that a muscle is nothing
more than a noun begging a ligament, a bone…
begging purchase? The guide notes:
Muscles are monks, neither fast-
talking preachers nor down-and-out bums
on a bench but monks, i.e., nothing more than
conjunctions in training.
Back on, please, we must move on.
Time now to ride the rush
of consciousness, head down,
to drop anchor.
To stomach lost love, bad relations,
toxic fumes, sulfurous vapors
You bothered? Have interjections?
Wanna exit? Too bad. Hop on.
We will finish this poem,
paddle one more vein. Come along
to intersection heart and lung.
Beats stomp. Bass and drum traffic in
signals of old iambic.
This route is blocked by clutter,
weeping, waste and detritus,
an endless ebb
of suicidal adjectives.
Do you hear knees knocking?
Fear there’s no emergency exit,
no volta out of here?
Scared? The guide notes
all goose bumps have roots.
When hairs stand, where
do they end? Skin
is a modifier, it splits the infinitive,
ensures the ocean of self stays contained.
You’re drifting. Hey you
guide calls, time to
sign on for the bonus,
visit the brain where fairies
and fungus lie together, embedded in pronouns.
And you decline, claim to be broke and that fast
you’re spiraling a barky, craggy tunnel,
riding the tailbone’s slippery slope and
then you are floating, a participle waiting
for the parachute to open
you see the light,
know now for certain
you prefer your poetry
as motion, not action
with its ingredients undigested and
at the very worst as bones on a plate that you can see
and suck the greasy rest of.
Say it: You prefer poetry where roots harbor flowers,
as an emotional pick-me-up, not some stinking
surging hop-on hop-off junket…
the guide interrupts
you’re dangling thoughts, claims
you don’t know what you want
at all. Your lines are tangled, a
haiku gets stymied. Lymph live-streams
free verse to your old viscous poem
and you’re hooked,
a swinger-on

PHOTO: The author in her dancing days.


As a young dancer, my job was to be technically brilliant by emulating the images of other famous dancers — dancing from the outside, so to say. With time, a sea change occurred in how I understood the human body. Moving from the inside became my goal. This meant working with internal images, what we now call “somatic work,” and involves everything from envisioning organs and bones to meditative instructions, and then moving from that internal place into the world, even onto the stage. None of this has much to do with writing, which is something I did in order to keep my cognitive sanity in that highly abstract and competitive environment.  When an unfinished manuscript of mine was bought by a publisher – an event that coincided with increasing knee problems and disillusionment of the modern dance world – I decided within a week to stop dancing. I disbanded my company, turned over teaching jobs, gave money back to sponsors for new work. The transformation was abrupt. I shed an old skin with nothing more than hope and blind faith that the new one would suit me. The poem, “The Hop-On Hop-Off Poem” is a dancer’s journey, literally, into the body of a writer. (Image from The Human Anatomy Coloring Book.)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jacalyn Carley transformed from a choreographer to writer midlife. The author of several books of fiction and nonfiction, she is currently writing a series of poems about the nude artists who paint the nude models as well as ekphrastic poems. She lives in Berlin, Germany.