You’ve never seen a lilac in Mississippi.
Backstage you wear lotion laced with
its chemical imitation. A ballet mistress
says relevé always as command: lift
onto the toe using only the heel.
Your ankle’s bewilderment
old as the horned owl gaze from
your mother hunched in the audience.
You enter the stage as Lilac Fairy
& fairies make critical things happen,
though underneath your tulle brushing
sleep over a kingdom, you’re a mouse
who gets eaten every night.
No audience wants to see that. Not
the barbed feathers tucked in your
mother’s cardigan. If you pretend
rescue is coming, it might.
Relevé meaning rise & also relief.
Lift your head along with the heel.
A boy your mother says is not a boy
follows your pirouettes from the balcony.
Already a wondering, rise to what.
The ballet can’t perform without
fairytale. The stage is safe for magic,
or at least pretend. Almost everyone gets
a solo in Sleeping Beauty, so no surgeon’s
daughter has hidden your pointe shoes
in the dressing room couch. The boy
was careful not to bring flowers
but you can feel his eyes bending around
the shoulders, clavicle, and neck you forgot
existed. When these minutes end,
these minutes of spinning his eyes
in their own pirouette, the world
won’t allow you to leave in his red Bronco,
not anymore. Already, hope sounds like
the adult word for magic. Relevé
meaning how much choreographed
relief a kingdom tolerates. Already
you are learning the off-state rules
about who gets rescued. Who throws
flowers and who catches them.
When a man follows too close, I think of the nights
my mother unrolled the day with her pantyhose,
having been chased around a desk, the afternoons
she insisted on posing outside the car so fifth-grade boys
would gawk, glazed as her hair frost. Without warning
she undressed and dressed in my presence. I pretended
not to mind until one night I saw her hysterectomy scar,
the pale softness above stretched into a mouth –
grimacing at me as if I were the one who opened the skin.