Beyond the Footlights

By

I had not meant to think on dancers
No, nor womanhood
I meant to write of summer,
Goodness, and the love of God.

But then I saw you step out on the stage,
The lights all trained upon your face
Stumbling feet and legs too long
A glance into the darkness, 
Seeking guidance from a song.

It wasn’t your uncertainty that made me weep
I sat in shadow, gazing up,
And what I saw was glory,
Thinly veiled in tulle and satin
Saw a shy conviction, such delight
In roses? Sequins? No.

What you delighted in was you
That here, upon this stage,
We’d catch a glimpse of what you knew
Already, secretly
You small, immortal queen

I wept still more for your uncomprehending
Innocence. That you should not yet know
What kind of world you’ve entered in
You cannot know your danger. Oh!

The light around you, thin as spider’s web,
So fine I hardly dared to breathe,
Cannot remain. 
Some hand will swat the veil aside
And barge right in
Or slowly snip the mooring threads
Until a breath of wind 
Blows it away.
I cannot bear to see.

You spin on tiny feet, your arms uplifted,
Toss a grin into the crowd, 
Take your skirts in hand and flee.
The lights go out.

I am inclined to stand and follow,
For who better knows the path ahead?
I’ve stared down countless dragons 
Before curling in my bed to cry
Have felt the violence, the gouge of hungry eyes
I’ve watched in silence, waiting for my turn to speak
While years dragged by.
It never came.

And I have gathered up the fragments 
Of my beauty, 
Reapplied the tattered bits with paste, in haste
I’ve laid them down, washed myself clean
And roared.

I’ve beaten giants
Quiet as a lamb, and no one noticed.
Just as quiet I can slip in between you and hell
And stand my ground
I know what’s waiting for you, girl

Yet it could be that while I watch you dance
And weep
You’re looking down at me,
Wondering what it means to be
A woman.
Maybe you’d like to see my battle scars,
Know how it feels to come through fire and flood
And laugh.
For this is womanhood, this strength,
This towering refusal
To lie down and die
Sit down and hush

We stand and fight
We are the champions of the light 
Inside your eyes.

That breathless glimmer
Only lasts an hour;
What rises from the embers
Is a fierce and lovely power.
Battle-hardened, battle-softened
Holy fire.

My great desire
Is that you’d know you are encircled,
Sheltered, lifted up by love.
You, too, will triumph,
Daughter, Dancer, 
Face of God.
You, too, will rise above.

So smile your biggest smile.
I see your glory, too.
Out here, beyond the footlights
In the dark
A warrior fights for you.


5 Comments

  1. JulieWitmer

    @juliewitmer

    “What rises from the embers
    Is a fierce and lovely power.
    Battle-hardened, battle-softened
    Holy fire.”

    So beautiful, and so true about the beautiful women here. Thank you, Helena ❤️

  2. Flo

    HELENA. WHAT. I just found this as I was looking for something else in the RR. Had I read it before the recital I would have been openly weeping. Just gorgeous and weighty and true. UGH. I love this. I can’t stop crying. Thank you.

  3. Julie Bennett

    Helena,what a beautiful poem! I live the lines: slip between you and hell and stand my ground… .and
    My greatest desire is for you to know you are encircled …..

  4. Carrie Luke

    @carriehluke

    This was incredibly beautiful. I am a puddle. Thank you for taking the time, Helena to create such a lovely piece. It was very courageous to wade into this tender space. As a mother of two daughters and a soon to be “empty nester”, this was a gift to me.

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