What are the origins of “Dance on Me”? Well, I think I was trying to capture not only what fear feels like on an emotional level, but also the outsized physical reaction that can accompany it.
What happened was this: I had a neighbor who—it seems—was mentally ill. Toward the end of her living next door, she would run up and down the stairs of our apartment building at night, screaming and pounding on residents’ doors. I complained to management, someone else called the police, and after a number of incidents, she was evicted.
Or perhaps she chose to move. I don’t know.
However events unfolded, I remember feeling frightened by the police pounding, in turn, on her door, to warn her to stop disturbing the peace. The sound of their knocking was so loud and so close that it felt threateningly intimate. Still, my startle response was primeval in its size, and so it must, I later thought, date back generations in origin. That’s why 20th-century history itself becomes a figure in the poem—or so I imagined.