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At the Degas Exhibit

The docent wends us to The Dance Class
and it all flits back: the studio downtown,
few bucks an hour, ragging off the finger

grease of toe-shoed cygnets, tutu-ed swans,
who glided hardwood blind to both
of me—spray of acne, high-top Keds.

I would clatter on the local after school
(weekends once the Christmas pageant neared),
my face, at every stop, floating outside

the window by my seat—a mask
tried on by stars in movie ads, commuters
cooling heels for later cars. Then Windex,

buff, till six, waving hello, farewell,
from glass to glass, plié to pointe—my hand
emitting squeaks, eliding dainty prints and streaks.

In my knapsack: comics, Catcher, lunch
untouched. And never once did I happen on
the courage even to speak to one of those

sugarplums of Rittenhouse, Society Hill.
Degas's girls, our guide informs, practice
attitudes, inspected by their master

(one Jules Perrot) propped on his staff.
Note the Parisian mothers dabbed
on the wall in back. Yet I see only tights

that bear the stamp Massey Dance, hear
gripes about third position, giddy talk
of boys, and search the sides and corners

for my Old World counterpart—some
sponge-and-bucket kid from a ragged edge—
undersized, nearsighted, invisible to art.

Gregory Fraser

Designed for Flight
TriQuarterly Books / Northwestern University Press

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