POEM OF THE WEEK: The Empty Tomb

Hank Graber photo  Anthony McCall Long Film for Four Projectors (1974) 1














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)

About Christine Hemp

Poet and writer Christine Hemp has aired her poems and essays on NPR’s Morning Edition; she has sent a poem of hers into space on a NASA mission to monitor the birth of stars; and her essays have appeared in such publications as the Iowa Review, Yale Anglers Journal, and the Boston Globe. Her awards include Harvard Extension School’s Conway Award for Teaching Writing, a Washington State Artist Trust Fellowship for Literature, and an Iowa Review Award. Her poetry collection, That Fall, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2011. Hemp teaches at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival.
Poems and Ponderings

6 responses to POEM OF THE WEEK: The Empty Tomb

  1. Bruce

    It seems that you have the ability to put me right in the moment.
    Thank you for sharing your poetry.

  2. Utterly exquisite. Thank you for the beauty of your writing.

  3. Sebastian Eggert

    Oh, Christine! Again, your words bring shivers to my spine, my soul. Thank you for the image and the feelings conveyed in your poem about this extraordinary performer and her absence from the stage. It is almost as if I was there.

  4. Thank you, Sebastian! It’s an honor to have you follow my poem of the week!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *