Oct/Nov 2019 Poetry Special Feature

On the Stage

by Jennifer Finstrom

On the Stage

"None will ever be a true Parisian who has not learned to wear a mask of gaiety over his sorrows and one of sadness, boredom, or indifference over his inward joy." —The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux

Backstage at the library fundraiser
your cousin has organized, you see
more dancers than you expected,
stretching in dressing rooms and
locker-filled hallways in their floating
white tulle. You are here to read
a few poems, but most of the program
is music and dance. You hover
in the wings, thinking of both
Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera
and On the Stage by Degas, though
this isn't Paris but rather the school
auditorium where, in 1960, your mother
graduated from high school. A young girl
is doing a jazz dance number before
you go on, the song Whitney Houston's
"I Didn't Know My Own Strength."

Since you started dating again at 50,
you've been telling yourself that
you are equal to anything, repeating
it out loud, a reminder that no matter
what happens you can wrap it in paper,
leave it in poems, and you are surprised
to enjoy the feeling you've signed
up for a cruise with no destination.
A man you invited to an open mic
the week before tells you he doesn't
applaud because the crowds in the Coliseum
clapped to incite the lions. You think
about that now as you go onstage,
the audience enveloped in a murmuring
indigo so dark it might be nothing or
a sea brewing with unnamed peril.
But you are equal to that as well.


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