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Beyond the Footlights

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.

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