An Exact Present - el duende

"All love songs must contain duende. For the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. [...] goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil." -- Nick Cave, 1999

"All arts are capable of duende, but where it finds greatest range, naturally, is in music, dance, and spoken poetry, for these arts require a living body to interpret them, being forms that are born, die, and open their contours against an exact present." -- Federico García Lorca

My friend,

You asked again about the duende when we talked about tango the other night. I'm always at a loss for accurate words on that subject. Which is ironic since, at its best, the duende can be the writer's greatest inspiration. At its worst, it can strangle your muse and burn your words to ash while you sit gibbering at the unfairness of it all.

Is it coincidence that the same day you asked me, another dancer (and writer) said that she was constantly looking for the duende, seeking it out in her dance, and in her writing.

Surely that must mean I should say something. Give some answer to you.

But the answer is I don't look for the duende anymore. Though it's never really far away. Sometimes I catch it loitering around my thoughts like that friend your mother warned you about.

Twice I've fallen deep into its euphoria, the feeling that breaks over your skin like the worst fever of your life. It's in that moment of realization that everything - you, me, and this wonderful source of euphoria whatever it is (or whoever it is), have an expiration date. Nothing lasts. It can all be taken away. That moment between having and not having, when the balance shifts....

the duende.

The first time I wasn't even dancing. Dancing tango had been the furthest thing from my mind. But the music played. It was so beautiful I couldn't breathe. One moment my friend, the one who brought tango into my life 7 years ago, was there and the next moment she was gone from this world. The music captured the void left behind like a snapshot.

The second time, I had finally started dancing to the music I'd listened to for so long. In that cocoon of elation, joy, beauty - it was still there. The duende was the ache at the center of it all. Ever patient, the duende waited until just that perfect time, stars aligning in the heavens, to remind me that all things end. That is what makes every wondrous, beautiful thing possible.

So for now, I'm happy to dip my toes in the shallow end of the pool. I find myself soothed and comforted in the music and the dance. When I see the shadows swim a little closer to the surface, I take my leave.

Just for now.

Some day I'll dive back in, I'm sure. I'm a writer - I can't help myself.


AlexTangoFuego said...


Unknown said...

Communicating physically without speaking... that is my duende. Here's to a life full of trial and error!

Beautiful post,
Pete | The Tango Notebook

Mari said...

Thank you, gentlemen - you both do so much to encourage me. :)