Capoeira Boy : Ruth Padel

Capoeira Boy

I saw him on YouTube. He was learning the martial art
that masks fighting as dance; the rocking, foot-
to-foot ginga bracing him for kicks, swipes
and thistle-light acrobalance. He was finding how to spin.

Feint, soar with his opponent. You could worry about him.
at least I did. but I saw he was loved. A favourite
perhaps. Enough anyway to give hope a chance
despite his lumbering, faintly victim, stance

as the two circled each other, holding their arms
off their torsos like cormorants drying their wings.
He was seven or eight, wearing glasses. Eagerness
shone out of him inside the ring of boys

chanting to a tambourine. They knew slaves in Brazil
made the rules. Only by dance do you learn how to fight.
Only by fight how to dance. And also that kids like them,
on the West Bank, could learn this in Hebron.

I saw him on YouTube in Jalazoun Refugee Camp
The teacher, laughing, supervised falls, accidents,
cat’s whisker escapes. I imagined he was telling them
Squat and spin! Flat on your hands! Aim your kick in his face-

let him duck – then cartwheel away. This is all about you.
but you’re nothing without him. Let the dance-fight-dance
set you free. Free of the six-lane motorway
shaking the camp with its sorrowful vibrations.

Free of the twenty-foot wall of cement, a stage set for Macbeth.
Grey olives flickered beyond, on hills where I guessed
older men like his grandfather were born
and are forbidden to graze sheep or tend their trees again.

While the boys danced, I pictured the flame of a split aorta
in the chest of a man who has lived all his days in the camps
and will die in one now. Afternoon flowed
through rows of tents like mist coming off black jade

as each became the other’s mirror. They were twin lights
in a sconce, tiger cubs perfecting life skills – pounce timing,
split speed for the roda – each pouring all he was
into the little space between self’s flying heel and other’s face.
– Ruth Padel

From “Learning to make an oud in Nazareth” (2014)




Ruth Padel is an award-winning poet, an acclaimed critic, travel writer and novelist, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Writer in Residence at the Royal Opera House. Covent Garden. She broadcasts for BBC Radio 3and 4 on poetry and music, and teaches poetry at Kings College, London.

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‘Capoeira Boy’ – African slaves on Brazilian plantations, allowed to dance but not fight or bear arms, created a martial art disguised as dance called capoeira, now popular in the west. Volunteers from the charity Bidna Capoeira teach it in refugee camps in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They find it increases co-operation and a sense of self-worth among children traumatised by violence.
Hebron: a city in the Judacan mountains in occupied Palestine on the southern West Bank. In 2011, Khelly Hill outside it was declared State Land. Settlers built homes and a road; Palestinian shepherds were denied entry to their land for grazing or cutting grass.