Choreography for Brief Flight
Circular. You sat beside me on the beach and carved an apple, your thumb against the blade. You had grown older. You talked of an elephant that was hung for killing a man. Your hair was damp from the ocean. A few weeks ago, you lied to a bartender that we were married. Lying that we were married was not the same as before and how we used to chase each other in the gardens of strangers. Not the same as hair catching in my mouth with every backward glance to see where you were, how far behind. Sitting beside me, older, you plucked each piece of fruit from the edge of the knife with your teeth and squinted out at the shattered light of the sea. The elephant, you said, wanted only the pale rind of a watermelon. I nodded. I understood the pale aspirations of the elephant. You said the mob was two thousand strong and that they first fired rounds before hoisting the elephant from a crane in a rail yard. The sure despair of your voice entered me like the sun. My throat burned. You said the crowd went wild in the tent was the same one went wild over her death. You said the elephant’s name was Mary, and even the children came to see her killed in Erwin, Tennessee.
2. En L’air.
In the air. We began this way: two bodies
done leapt and floating, our muscles lithe
with desire. Some people looked up, eyes shaded.
We hung in the early light of the world,
our breath whiskey-tinged, ragged. We began
this way, our atoms vaulted and thrilling above
the gathering crowd. And what did we see
but their feet making tiny hops as if to join.
We began in the air. This was when we loved
Sundays. When, effortless, we stayed and stayed
and always. The words were still sapling supple.
We found each other in every syllable. In that aerial
mood when we craved only the bright current
before contact. We believed then that the wind
could be an indrawn breath. Here. We began right
here, when our wings were the same size
Broken, breaking. When the woman was young, she could have told you that a brisé is a small, beating step in which the movement is broken. In the house where she lives is a photograph of the woman when she was young, when she knew how to dance. She had dark hair pulled back and wore a pink ballet costume. The pale pink stockings were loose as elephant skin around the knees and ankles. The girl’s eyes were dark and sullen because the other ballerinas were permitted makeup and a dusting of gold glitter across their cheeks. The woman who was the girl stands tiredly on a barrier island. A thousand birds have gathered in small, hunched shoulders to watch the sundown. She can sense him standing in shadow by the boat, knee-deep in the winter sea. Her body contains an aging and brittle vocabulary, shuttered lexicon of loneliness.
In his house, the woman he has not married, not even in a lie to a bartender, has discovered a photograph of him as a twelve-year-old boy, kneeling over the dove brought down from the air with a BB gun. The bird floundered, became a blur in the photograph, a pair of beating wings attached to one grounded heart. If you asked the boy, stooped there, to look up and speak, he would narrow at you his angry eyes and say that it is over. That he will never believe in an infinite suspension. Overwrought, he would insist that every winging moment breaks and how could he not know it as someone who is now doomed to lay things low. More calmly, he would indicate the dove, stilled on the gray ground, and explain that it is a matter of practicality. Wings, after all, are just our thin legs awkwardly taped with feathers. Numb and sinking, he lifts the anchor. A thousand birds gasping into the sky.