CURRENT ISSUE (#50)
"The Dance Student" and "White October"
by Jennifer K. Sweeney
The Dance Student
We wound our bodies up at nine a.m.
alternating blue and green leotards
for the days of the week,
black on Fridays when the toe blisters
were raw from a week of pirouettes,
braids of muscle clenched along the spine.
I stood on the end facing the corner-mirror
so when Shirley played the sonorous plié
from behind the helm of the piano
and our arms carved the cold air in unison,
it looked like one woman twelve layers deep.
The snow fell heavy and slow
down the length of the windows
as our legs extended, hollow of inner ankle
nesting on the barre and we slid
along the curve of wood in wide splits
torquing our hips into a new architecture.
Against the landscape of mirror,
our audience was reflection, all stance and blur,
eyes huge against the pull of onion-buns,
January faces ashen, restrained.
Who knows the moment
when we are most real to ourselves?
At five, I stared at myself
in a pantyhose display at the Kmart,
stacked wall of mirrored L’Eggs,
a hundred misshapen faces gazing back.
Or during the silent snip of haircuts
hair wet and matted to the scalp,
arms folded beneath the black cape
until she handed over the hand mirror and circled
me around to approve the back of my head.
One Friday we got to end class
flat on our backs, all spun-out,
tights damp and pulling at the crotch.
Above us a baroque painting of cherubs
floating against a scrim of brown-black.
Some nuns at the college petitioned
the painting be removed and a puff of blue clouds
was crudely oiled over three penises.
What a relief to be past the adagio,
petit allegro, sweep of grand jeté,
past falling off-balance, the wash of pain
held in our line of watchful faces.
I still feel that papery dancer fighting against her bones,
that oblong child repeated in a row of eggs
like they will perpetually be peering out
for a sign of recognition,
some rough nod of approval
from the surface of things.
You cannot let go the embered,
cinnamon and rust,
everything husked and shaking off
yellow paper skins,
the hay-sweet evening, auburn and cold,
that comes with a seasonal childhood.
You search it in the late October skyline
but here the day is all white,
ethereal as it wisps over the skirted mountains.
You could lose yourself in there,
crawling the car around coast cliffs,
edges softening, and all the ways
you’ve ever wished for disappearance
lower down in veils,
take a fragment of memory or desire
back up to the sky
as you stare into the perpetual duskiness
of the ocean, steely water wrinkling
and unwrinkling its surf and glide.
You’re searching for a little
fire, anything aglow
on the mauve-brown bluffs,
but that’s not the point
this blurred world is making,
this white October with its white pumpkins
and pearly pampas grass.
The message is thin as a plume
but it’s something about surrender,
something about how your need is a shade less
in this rush of cloud.
The person you love is beside you
and the rest of your life is a big question—
it’s something about the cornsilk wings
of one two three hawks
swooping low in front of you
and dissolving into the mystic.
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