Dancer

                        I

His day job? it’s just blech, he natters, crap
to pay for my nightlife: work at the barre,
taking class. “My lines.” But his feet can’t skip
past the plod on cold concrete at the store,
where he bags, scans fruit, works the register,
shuffling so his legs won’t go numb. “You’ve heard
what Rudi said—‘what they pay you for is fear,’
the facing fear down. Here? I’ll soon be fired
that’s my fear—cashier’s smock, leotard, both sacked
at once.” Long shifts he stands, hurries from work
to assume first position, port de bras
(already he’s counting eights). He spies
in the mirror his black eyes, shifts his pose— 
lifts his face as if sunbeams pranced on glass.

                        II

Caul of the womb (first leotard). In there,
his first positions: turns, kicks, somersaults.
Now, swathed in next to nothing, breached to air,
he tests raw space, each motion a revolt
against cessation. Each step dares his fear
of being out: upright, uncrumpled. Lilts
of form: glyphs of speech. Drill, drill: it’s not flair
counts most, but training that surmounts tumult.

Trials of the second skin (all’s visible
to stares): profile, bulky shape untrimmed—sheath
of flaws. At home he dances nude, appalled;
here, in business black, he works dark arts, wreathes
through tricks of form. The leotard his shroud,
he hunts meat of his spirit, a leopard.

                        III

Such slight things, they seem—the crossing of feet,
soft beats of heels. Couched so, on his basalt
sarcophagus, in some church aisle, a knight
rests, performing in stone his entrechat.
Yet to train for repose, aloft midair—
the soar for battements as if a cloud—
needs every clever muscle’s choice to dare
fail (tights stripped by harsh eyes)—to trust the hold
of sky with no lifter. A dancing man
like a still-life spinning out of time knows
conquest, limit equally---how he’s gauged
contours of space, and must still graze ground
with lightest soles, not like Antaeus thrown,
but welcoming the touchstone earth his stage.

                        IV

Earthbound now, confined to elegant walks
across a stage meant for others: father
to some sleeping beauty; perhaps a duke.
The leotard’s gone. A cape he feathers
through skies his limbs once ruffled; if he’s draped,
he wears velvet like silk. Nothing’s hid:
fearlessly he dares appear aged, each step
a new achieving of the common stride.

Daily, back in tights he takes class, teaches
young men how to keep balance, shift their weights
for leaps. He vets their lines, shapes their arching
spines, his palm pressed to shoulder-blade or waist.
Inheritors (his): from counter or desk
they come, tingling to practice arts of risk.