Corpse Posing to ‘Beat It’

Some of my best thoughts have happened when I was supposed to be emptying my mind. Like yesterday, lying on my back, limbs limp, ankles and shoulders trying to relax into shavasana. In preparation for this final posture, a New York Sports Club yoga instructor led us through a few rounds of nadishodana (alternate-nostril) breathing. I can never quite get the choreography right—thumb closes right nostril, exhale through left; then ring finger closes left nostril, inhale through right, I think. A way to empty the belly of breath, to quiet the mind, I think. But I wasn’t supposed to be thinking. And yesterday, there was no way I was going to get the rhythm of it. “Beat It” was blaring in the weight room, and I wanted to get up and dance, to thank Michael Jackson, for telling me, since I was a color-outside-the-lines child of the eighties, “it doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right.” Less for the lesson in conflict resolution than for the sheer beat of it—the clipped staccato of each syllable: “it-does-n’t-mat-ter-whose-wrong-or-right. Just beat it-doo-doo-doo-Just beat it.” Release into refrain. Relax into repetition. Rile up the register and sing. “Beat Iaaaaaaat. Beat Iaaaaaaat. No-one-wants-to-be-defeataat.”

Michael Jackson was a genius of the phoneme—every little bone of sound. And the joints, the ligaments of a phrase. And the strokes of a strophe. “It-does-n’t-mat-ter-whose-wrong-or-right.” Stress-stress-unstress-stress-unstress-superstress-stress-unstress-stress, all calibrated, somehow, to exhilarated breath.

As the yoga class was winding down, I hadn’t emptied my belly or my mind. I was brimming with sound, lungs akimbo, in “Beat It” epiphany: Michael Jackson taught me, unlikely trochee by infectious doo-doo-doo I know now I know by heart, how to make poetry of the beats of speech. How to make lyrical lines of pedestrian walk-and-shit-talk and talk back. “Just beat it.” And the beats all came back to me, lying there in shavasana, my third eye beholding the way Michael would move his forearm—spastic and controlled at the same time, disjointed to the smooth glide of his moon walk.

Ashley Makar works with refugees in Connecticut. She does community outreach for IRIS--Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, in New Haven. She has an e-book of essays, You Were Strangers: Dispatches from Exile. Ashley has published essays in Tablet, The Birmingham News, The Struggle Continues (the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute weblog), Religion Dispatches, and The New Haven Register.