The Nutcracker

                                                My daughter is twelve when they ask her to dance
                                                in the opening scene, the one with the Christmas tree 

                                                filling the stage with dreams of sugar plum  
                                                faeries and toy soldier armies. It’s the scene 

                                                with the children, ribbons streaming through raven
                                                and golden hair, lips curving into perfect bows,

                                                brows shining like the sheen on satin wrappings,
                                                and around the tree gifts piled like snowdrifts, 

                                                scattered like rose petals, the soft white lights
                                                of the mother and father flickering in the evening

                                                air. The ballet is two months away when my
                                                daughter says, Please, Dad. We need someone

                                                to be the father. Just for a few weeks. Just
                                                for practice. Just until the real father arrives.

                                                Every Tuesday and Thursday night I rehearse
                                                with the girls, intricate ballet steps, toes pointed,

                                                fingers relaxed, wrists slightly bent, a huge,
                                                knobby-legged bird in a garden of slippers and lace.

                                                At last the professionals arrive, all but the father.
                                                And for some reason I think of my first foot race

                                                in second grade, the one where, to my astonishment,
                                                every boy in the class could run faster and farther

                                                than I. The heels of their shoes still flash before
                                                me as I am left behind, just as now the heels

                                                of these elegant dancers spring into the air
                                                as I, clodhopper I, try to find the beat.

                                                The choreographer is tall like a lily, and as beautiful.
                                                His accent Russian. I ask for the father. When

                                                will the father arrive? You are Father, he says.
                                                First little girls dance, then you. To her mother,

                                                I say, I will not do this. I adore my daughter,
                                                but I will not dance.
On the night of the performance

                                                I stand in the middle of the stage as twelve
                                                little girls twirl around me like snowflakes.

                                                They dance in circles, then lift expectant eyes
                                                to mine. Their mothers and fathers clap

                                                and cheer them on, but I cannot hear
                                                the music. I cannot feel the beat. And then,

                                                from the wings, a Russian voice spins me
                                                into motion: Dance, Father! Dance!

                                                                                                                           for Marste

 

This poem appears in House of Mirrors and in Where There Was No Pattern
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