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Ambiguous Acrobat

She’d been a gift at my parents’ sudden wedding.

Unheeding, they hung her above my bed.

Her white face and carmine lips afflicted me. 

I feared what seemed twisted and angry. 

Was it my mood or hers that made her change

from serene to tortured to smugly smiling?


Her lissome body, sheathed in pantaloons, 

seemed caught between states, ready to shatter 

in a mad dance. They, too, were trapped like that, 

in the swing of their rage-love pendulum. 

Her labile, plump mouth, eyes of anemone, could 

turn hard, his delicate cheek, angled in attention, 

grim. Defiant, I danced my own tarantella. 

They cheered or shut me down. 


I became a reader of faces and words.

Leaving home, I took their books but left the saltimbanque

behind. For years, I was her. One day, late indeed, 

I vaulted from the frame and said Watch me.

Natania Rosenfeld is a writer, independent scholar and Professor Emerita of English at Knox College. She has published two books of poetry, The Blue Bed (Spuyten Duyvil Press 2021) and Wild Domestic (Sheep Meadow Press 2015), as well as a scholarly book, Outsiders Together: Virginia and Leonard Woolf (Princeton 2000). An e-chapbook, She and I, appeared in 2018 from Essay Press. Her essays, poems and fiction have appeared in journals including Drunken Boat, AGNI, The Yale Review, APR, Raritan, Gettysburg Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Southwest Review, and four essays have been listed as "Notable" in Best American Essays collections. “Beret,” a poem published in Yale Review, received Special Mention in the 2020 Pushcart Prize anthology. In 2018, she was named one of 30 “Writers to Watch” by the Guild Literary Complex in Chicago.

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