THE EMPTY TOMB
Three nights before she was to dance
Saint-Saëns’ “The Dying Swan,” Anna Pavlova
drowned. (God comes on a dreadful tide.)
Her lungs filled with pneumonia’s pools
and she surrendered, saying, “Play that last
measure very softly,” then drew
her final breath. Russia refused to accept
that its perfect bird lay still. The dark
stage lay quiet – but they came, offered up
their tickets and settled in their seats.
The overture swelled, Anna’s entrance
to “The Swan” familiar as the dawn.
Waiting for those supple wings and feet
that floated just above the floor, the crowd
exhaled a collective “Oh!” when the spotlight
suddenly shone. On the stage a silent beam
followed her – or where her shapes had been.
The white disc slid across the boards
as the strings’ crescendo filled the hall. First
stage left, then stage right, the swan – their swan –
falling to her death in unobstructed view.
When the lamp found center stage, her solo
absence bloomed with each imagined pirouette,
each entrechat. The dance was nothing
and everything without her. And still,
as if at any moment she’d leap into that cone
of light— her feathers lifting slightly in the air—
the beam embraced her with the grace
of something good we’ve all once known.
When the finale comes, what then? they thought.
The music had to stop. And it did. A hush
the size of Russia. The light stood still.
Then, in a tidal wave they rose: A thousand
hands and hearts roaring for an empty stage.
by Christine Hemp
IMAGE: Anthony McCall, “Long Film for Four Projectors” Light Installation/Film, 1974
(photo by Hank Graber)