The Conversation with the Woman before She Fell Headfirst into the Studio Mirrors, Three Minutes before Ballet Class

She was talking about her mother at home,

ninety-six years old, and how it would be

when the television was no longer buzzing,

the screen dim, soft blue,

the frail blossom of her mother’s face missing

when she kissed her cheek, saying,

What would you like to eat?

She was talking about hazelnut coffee and whole milk,

those little breakfast treats shaped like violins

and how ballet class on Saturday morning

was the kind of thing that kept her from waning,

but she still needed to make her telephone ring—

since her husband died, that static sound

of the dial tone, the wind shifting between

the limbs of winter trees, was too haunting.

She touched her red hair, the bob and bangs

a ridged square around her hollow cheeks—

barbed and bloodshot, nothing escaped but worry.

I was invited to a dance at the Elk’s Lodge,

she said. There are six women who sit together,

I think it could be the thing.

She sighed and leaned on the ballet barre,

her canvas slippers lost in the foamy color of her tights—

It was the first time she’d ever worn the uniform.

Most of us mothers and grandmothers, our hearts

beating harder between the contrasts and transitions:

dressed in the same thing the daughters wore

in the studio next door, and we heard them

through the walls, their legs a hysterical beating,

absent of all melody, but devouring the beauty, the hope of things.

The woman started to cry. And it happened then,

when the children were laughing wildly at something

I had grown too far away from to see.

Second Individual Lesson, at the Barre, with the Ballet Mistress Trained at the Royal Academy

I’m turned out in the standard: black one-piece,

tights like daisy petals, accentuating the ball

and socket, the meat stitched to the bone.

Last time, when she hooked her fingers into my ribs,

conditioning my heart to beat between my hips,

she said she needed to see my body, the subversive

line of each part. She needed to understand

how I could move so incoherently— and here it is,

a penny show, a table dance, the slab and mockery

of the child with a thirty-year old face. I can’t look at her,

the mirrors or the barre, and turn away from the wall.

The barre is the man you will eventually dance with,

show respect, she says, a voice like stretched wool,

her Grecian sandal stomping each syllable down.

The wooden barre, two inches thick, melts and bends

beneath my hand as I start again and beat battements

into the canvas, the cotton, the ground.

I imagine the eight-year-old girls she says

that same thing to— their smiles and fantasies

of Prince Phillip, Prince Siegfried.

Last night I dreamt of you and me in the backseat—

nothing more than traveling North, our thin

faces ghostly, pressed together, listening to Hadyn

on headphones, our fingers

catching the light and bending the hinges

to the black boxes, the striking lights we’d find

if we could only catapult ourselves backwards.

There is only one path to greatness, she says,

and I know it happens before puberty,

before the body is ill-prepared,

when it can still destroy everything

and ignore the drum,

beating away in the background of every song.

William Wolak

Copyright © 2016, Otis Nebula Press. All rights reserved.


Kristen Clanton has an MFA in poetry from the University of Nebraska. Her work has appeared in Bicycle Review, The Birds We Piled Loosely, BlazeVOX, Burlesque Press, MadHat Drive-By Book Reviews, MadHat Lit, The Mangrove Review, Midnight Circus, Otto Magazine, The Outrider Review, Ragazine, Quilt, Sugar House Review, and The Sound of Sugar.