Concerto Minimoso

           for my  father

You and I listening to Chopin,
a quiver through us both,
taken, staring,
somewhat petit mal,
(in retrospect),
that descending chord,
indelible cascade
that didn't resolve to its tonic
but instead, to the minor sixth,
f minor:  the everything of that.
Years pass and again
the deceptive cadence
the master wrote,
I heard,
and you were.

Phantoms of the Ballet

          for the late Sam Haddock

You see how the teacher tenderly takes
the pink-slippered foot of the stick-thin kid
and places the toe on the calf
of the other leg, such that the bent knee
and foot form a little pink triangle.

The teacher says, now lower your arm
and dangle your fingers, as though
water is dripping down and off the
forefinger -- yes, like that.
The girls practice their positions,

perform rudimentary moves of the
pirouette, then have free time for
improvisation, abandoning their
bodies to the music,
gossamer skirts whirling.

And then you recall the gray, thick
ankles, feet and toes of the other
students priming for performance,
how the wrinkled legs are yanked,
huge and heavy, bound by braided ropes,

bodies slammed to the ground
or shocked into submissive march to a beat,
taught to sit like proper tea ladies on little
on little benches, and forced to contort,
with front feet atop the animal ahead,

as the handler commands, make 'em scream,
Scream!  using bull hooks and electric
prods, to override any residual nature,
masking the thunderous cries
with blaring music.

You know the denial of nurture,
the shackling for half a year after birth,
until the struggle comes to an end,
and the lumbering from cage to ring
to cage for thirty years or more, begins.

The aspiring ballerinas stretch
their spindly arms, up and up, rounding
them, sashaying side to side, mothers
watching the mirror intently, their
eyes alight with pride.

The elephants, exhausted, filthy,
are back to ropes, chains and cement,
broken for one more day.
Your mind helplessly plays, replays,
the pastiche of beauty and brutality.

You wonder if you should withhold
money from the teacher, all lessons
from the child, and, instead, send
to those fighting for decent treatment
of unsightly sentient beasts.

Your child is hungry, so you drive into
a circus of noise, honking, lights, knowing
the show must go on.  You proceed warily,
gripping the wheel like a barre, in search of 
some kind, any kind, of sustenance.

This poem was written after viewing a slide-show compiled by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, based on photographs of circus elephant, taken by animal-handler-turned-undercover filmmaker Sam Haddock.