New York City skyline at night




Philip Dacey


"No one should have to choose between
a baby and a Balanchine ballet."
— Suzanne Farrell

"…perfection of the life or of the work…"
— Yeats

One day it's baby,
the next it's ballet.
Can't I dance in the delivery room,
lie spread-legged on stage?
So many false dichotomies:

live or die,
truth or consequences.
I ask my husband's opinion,
watch for the crowning
of an answer, but his words

only dance away.
My rehearsal mirror doubles me;
I'll do one in each world.
At the barre, I pretend
my exercises were invented

by Lamaze. Didn't the baby
spring from a pas de deux?
In a dream, Mr. B.
wears a surgical mask
and extracts from me

a Stravinsky score.
What is a nursery
but backstage, all the ballerinas
and their partners
warming up?



When I come across the word "ash-pit"
in a poem by Seamus Heaney, I wonder how
I could have forgotten for so long
the ash-pit I grew up with,

which squatted fortress-like
behind my childhood home in St. Louis,
a cement-and-stone outpost on the border
between our backyard and the narrow alley—

as narrow as our lives—where, from time to time,
the ashman came like someone risen
from the Underworld to scoop out and reclaim
what rightfully belonged to it.

In the ash-pit, everything burnable burned
as easily and wholly as the years
since I stood beside it, which now,
in memory, seems a kind of Sphinx,

a silent witness to our days—
it could have been in a desert,
could have been asking us a question
upon which our lives depended.

And now even the word, itself
squat and fortress-like, flares in the ear:
the two short vowels, sibilant and plosive,
rise like smoke into a heaven of spondees.

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