To My Understudy
Tonight, I want to hush the deafening applause
for you, my understudy, who always believed in the
possibility of impending disasters:
the wobbly trapdoor, the
frayed light cords, flu-
carrying kisses, off-stage
You spent months waiting, ready to fly from dim wings into
dumbfounding radiance to replace me,
the fallen star. Perhaps you served the play’s artifice
well, rendered my lines with grace.
Though you didn’t cause the misfortune that
thrust you into the animating light, you
are still a thief of roles, an embezzler of words.
Do not mistake forgiveness for permission.
I own the sorrows of this stage, the
colors of the painted scrim sky.
My body scents the cloth of costumes. The
ghosts cry in my voice all night.
The rubber knife measures the length of my fingers and
will plunge only into my believing heart.
Beware. Tomorrow, the peacock returns.
With my feathered eyes I’ll watch the sparrow retreat to
dark obscurity, a caged bird who has seen the sun, but must
wait for an ill wind to soar again. When
the curtain rises, it will be me stepping out of myself
into the burn of another’s life, the heat of clapping hands.
Never again will you steal my illusions.
One single moment in my pretend world
is the whole life I knew I was meant to live.