Choreography for Brief Flight

by Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams

1. Manèges

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
beating, beating.



3. Brisé

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.

HANNAH DELA CRUZ ABRAMS received the 2013 Whiting Writers Award for her novella The Man Who Danced with Dolls and her memoir-in-progress The Following Sea. She has also received a Rona Jaffe National Literary Award and a North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship. Her work has most recently appeared in, or is forthcoming from, Oxford American, Carolina Quarterly, and Mayday Magazine, among others. Abrams currently teaches in the Department of English at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.