That cold night I finally knew I was dying.
I put out the cat and lit a fire in the fireplace.
I cooked supper.
I read a little.
I went outside in the snow and danced the way I used to,
when I travelled with the ballet
to places you never heard of
to golden palaces and silver castles and in the theatres of princes
balancing on my toes like a spider on the water
too light to fall through.
My hair came loose and spilled out
like an accidental wave of dark water from a bucket.
My robe shone under the moon like Odette’s white feathers,
her feathered crown
her silent body like a star on the surface of the lake
like a comet plunging across the black sky.
I was so beautiful.
You should have met me when I was a girl--why
did it happen so late, our meeting?
By the time you opened your door to me
I was a sick woman, creased like a map, brittle as kindling,
my black hair gone from the chemo
my skin an opaque illusion standing between my blood and the air.
I was not Odette.
You opened your door to me.
You took me out in my wheelchair.
We got the cat.
While I lay in bed and vomited into a basin, Stravinsky played
on our radio, in our stereo, winding around me
softening the ugliness, not lessening the pain
and you held me by the shoulders
so careful of my body
while I heaved and groaned and wept.
I couldn’t get out of bed, so you got in with me and I lay on your breast
but I was somewhere else.
The medicine sent me somewhere else.
You were away the night I was dying.
I took out my tubes and drove myself home, I never once
I fed the cat.
I put on my ballet shoes
and made myself beautiful again.
I wish you had been seen me.
I opened my arms to the night, and the confident half-moon with its shadow
and the stars like silver ore to be mined
out of the sky
and my legs were steady as Roman pillars, slender marble,
all that grace.
The bones that betrayed me, full of death,
were certain as the turns of planets; the unfathomable unstoppable bigness of space
was not more vast than my strength.
In my heart I heard the orchestra, I heard the Firebird,
I heard the Four Seasons, I heard
Mars, the red warrior,
I was--o, lover!--I was Odette, the swan, beating my wings
beating my heart,
becoming a crescendo, my body a crescendo,
my body ascending
Then I came back inside
(the cat came with me)
and I sat down in my chair.
I watched the fire go out
and then I died.