To protect the instrument, she spent all night
gesturing at plates or nodding yes to the glass of white.
She had changed her gown but left her makeup on,
so that I watched like a recital, the diamond-shine
of her lips, lashes long enough to be seen in the second tier.
Someone made a metaphor
from her voice. Someone said her timbre was burnt sugar.
Perhaps she missed her own daughter—
if she had one—or maybe I was the guest with the softest pleas,
only holding out my program, uncapping a pen, and asking please.
You have to shield
yourself, she whispered, as we shared
one couch pillow, one bowl of crème brûlée, while others agreed this
was the right of genius:
to adopt a little girl for the evening and turn everyone else away,
never mind the dignitaries or the great bouquet
that bristled in its cellophane. Later I would hear
how she set fire to her career,
each tantrum a shrill
explosion on the stage, the singer true to the scuffle
of her name. But that night, she was no sharper than a silk ruffle.
And her tone did have the sweetness of warm caramel.
Whatever war remained behind the scenes, unseen
as all of opera’s wonders—pulleys and levers, the smoke machine,
the lightning flicker
of the strobe, the sheet of steel that resonates with thunder.
Virginia Quarterly Review