In Their Own Words

Chloe Honum's “Ballerina, Released”

Ballerina, Released

On stage each night I shape a single story.
It's later, driving home, that vertigo
sets in. I lose all focus, see the roads
tangling in the wind. Rain sings on stones
that lead to my front door; its music holds
no cues for me. I light a cigarette
and lean against a tree. Clear blossoms froth
along the boughs, a daddy longlegs prowls
over the grass, its legs on eight blade tips.
The moon is spinning in a sack of mist.
How can I sleep? I dance the murders of
the Firebird, my red tutu a flame
in a cave, then fall. I cannot grasp my life.
I float. The garden shakes behind my smoke.

From The Tulip-Flame (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2014). All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

On "Ballerina, Released"

When I was an adolescent, I wanted to become a ballerina. I practiced with more dedication than I knew I possessed. Some nights I dream I can still dance the way I could at my best.

Yeats said, "A line will take us hours maybe; / Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought, / Our stitching and unstitching has been naught." The same holds true for ballet. The ballerina must make every step appear effortless.

I remember my teacher yelling "sloppy hands!" as I danced. What she meant was that I had forgotten my fingertips, that I wasn't dancing with every millimeter of my body. For me, every word, comma, and hyphen is part of a poem's dance. I'm drawn to that level of concentration.

Stepping into a tutu, wrapping the ribbons of my pointe shoes around my ankles, I felt transformed. Writing poetry, I have at times experienced a similar kind of magic. But magic, by its nature, is fleeting. The speaker of "Ballerina, Released" is between two worlds. Compared to her existence as the Firebird, her regular life is unwieldy and disorienting.

I imagine artists often struggle to reconcile their many selves. Who an artist is at the height of creation—lost in a poem, mid-flight on stage—is different from who she or he is in daily life. My hope is that "Ballerina, Released" conveys some of that struggle.

More In Their Own Words