Second Row at the Ballet


That night at the Orpheum, what had I been trying to tell you? I remember
going over it in my head, testing the words
against the silences they would replace. The old theater at Beale and South
Main had been spared the wrecking ball,

its façade and marquee, ornate friezes and delicate gold leaf deemed worth
conserving after decades of neglect. Our seats were so good
they were bad. I couldn't see the dancers' feet for the footlights, and the sweat
on the ballerinas' backs wasn't a romantic glow, it was sweat.

This cluttered world is constantly encroaching and tangible, but it's hard
not to reduce it to something imagined. From where we sat
I could see into the wings, the lead dancer listening for her cue. She violently
wiped at her nose with the heel of a palm. Moments before,

a piece of her shadow had spun huge as a movie projection on the backstage
wall abbreviating the motions she was about to perform,
the way a mechanic tearing down an engine finds a way to remember the
orientation of each piston and cam and rod. We have learned

to practice until it isn't practice anymore, until the history of repetition
falls away as it did for the carefully costumed dancer
when she flung herself across the stage on the exact right beat and began
to inhabit the ghosted images so perfectly arranged in her mind.