At the Opera
Ava Leavell Haymon
Velvet theater seats, large audience
indistinct in low sepia light. Cheap seats
under the balcony: a woman rifles through
her evening bag. She has lost a handful
of cash, all she has left. She feels lipstick, pens,
someone’s business card, a couple of quarters.
Onstage, center, there is God, a she-hawk,
purple and magnificent. Orange curtains lean
open to the sides, great folds of fabric slumping
with their own weight. A mortal doomed
by her bad choices in Act I, the soprano makes
an entrance in Act II which she must announce
by an offstage phrase that begins high, on a G#.
Her score is missing. Standing in the wings, in red satin
shot through with gold, she breathes to her diaphragm
and does not know when to sing. In the audience,
the woman throws her bag to the dark floor,
searches pockets in her coat -- gloves, ticket stubs,
Mastercard receipts. The performance has cost her
everything, she wants to pay attention.
In the pit, the strings beg “More urgency”
in open fifth runs, accelerando:
“This is the show that must go on.”
Now the woman in the back row finds
gum wrappers, grit, a grocery list.
The soprano’s throat tightens closed,
as if to weep. She resolves to sing anyway,
wrong or not. There are no male voices.
God is a she-hawk, contralto, center stage.
The soprano will surely fail,
and the woman in the back
cannot compose herself to attend.