Loïe Fuller entertains M. and Mme Curie at Boulevard Kellerman

(Knock knock knock):

Lo Lo at the door, her big eyes blue to bursting
through the threshold of the simple house at 108,
and billowing fabric, a train of electricians in her wake.

‘La Loïe’, receptive to fancy, desired luminous
wings of radium, had read a story in the paper
of the couple whose curiosity burned through

harsh Parisian winters in a makeshift lab; Marie
laboured at the cauldron in the courtyard, separating
pitchblende, while Pierre examined specimens

of radioactive matter. For years, they inhaled
the aberrant air, excited by tiny hazards; their love
may have been quantifiable from dawn chores

to the bedside table, growing deeper with each
working day and penetrating joints and bones.
Troubles were dismissed like sweat, like steam,

like smoke; they didn’t fully know the power
of their work, how it followed them home
like a yapping dog. Trace particles no doubt laced

cups, clothes and cookbooks; all the doorknobs turned
on danger. Yet, despite fatigue and aches and pains,
they glowed. Loïe, too, knew how to suffer one’s vocation,

ice packs pressed against her spine when she was merely
‘woman’. She had to move to sweep away the cold
that chilled her marrow, to exceed the human form

that weighed her down. Picture the peculiar vision
in the dining room that day at 108: her dancing silks
becoming flower, flame, fevered in a harmony of light

and sound and swirling screens that cycle cerulean,
azure, cobalt and blue. The captive audience of three —
Pierre, Marie and little Irène — look shocked at such

a strange disruption to their modest home. Loïe’s
smile, if you can catch it, radiates like an electric
fairy, charged by force of revolution. She doesn’t

mind the fact that they could not fulfil her fantasies
for phosphorescent costumes; she dances to salute
their efforts to reply at all. Loïe knows her swirling

colours tease the hem of Marie’s plain, black dress
with the rapture of a metaphor, is pleased to introduce
imaginary visions of a different kind into the Curie’s

field. These women are not, it seems, so dissimilar.
Both anticipated more to find amidst the Earth’s seen
detail, they pushed the limitations of their bodies

to uncover possible truths. And later, when catastrophes
had brutally amassed in Marie’s lap, a letter
from the dancer braced this purpose: ‘pay no attention

to the lies’, she wrote, and signed off with a swelling ‘c’est la vie.’


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Jessica L Wilkinson

Jessica L Wilkinson’s latest book of poetry is Music Made Visible: A Biography of George Balanchine (Vagabond Press, 2019). She is the managing editor of Rabbit and an Associate Professor in Creative Writing at RMIT University.

More by Jessica L Wilkinson ›

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