Invitation to the Dance
In the summer of 1949, Jacques d’Amboise found himself in a clash with a bully who produced a switchblade. “Without even thinking,” he recalls. “I did a grand battement—a big kick—knocking his hand and sending the knife flying. The force of my kick spun me around. . . . . I arrived with both feet under me in plié, leaped in the air, and jumped so high my feet kicked down on top of his shoulders, smashing him [flat].”—I Was a Dancer
I want to call my sister and chat,
give her the book for her birthday.
“Did you know all that about d’Amboise?”
I’d ask. She was crazy about dance,
and followed its stars.
They more or less took the place
of her teenage movie scrapbooks, endorsed
her passion for Broadway, confirmed her readiness
to splinter any ordinary weekday into shards
of emotional tempest.
But a few years ago
with her customary flair for drama,
she choked on a piece of beef at dinner
and moved on, missing the suspense
of her husband’s flailing performance
with Heimlich’s maneuver, the sirens,
the elevator, for once on express,
the paramedics, the neighbors
at their gaping doors,
and the way we gathered later
around her hospital bed
like characters in a Puccini opera,
but without their cunning motive;
wanting her only to know
that we had paid attention,
that she was splendid;
wanting her to take a final bow,
wanting her to be aware of our applause.
And then someone noticed
that though the ventilator
and the heart monitor had been turned off,
her feet were still moving
in a slow but rhythmic and purposeful jig,
as if she were warming up for a grand battement,
and had decided to dance off stage.
Pieces of us Keep Breaking Off
Widow: a hollow, sallow word,
a window without view or sun,
someone old, confined and prim.
And yet I yearn to become one,
to quench the rage that lunges daily
from my tight-locked box of failings
because the milk has spilled,
the newspaper is torn to shreds,
he’s waked me from sound sleep.
Raising my arm with vengeful will,
I break my wrist on the bed rail.
I’m mean, inept, and without grace.
Shrewishness: a stage of grief;
pieces of us keep breaking off.
Wondrously rational, he says
I’m not always myself, remember.
More and more we live with strangers.
He was my ritual, my drink, my bread.
Still loving him, I wish him dead.