by Peter Weltner
How pleasant still to lounge in bed
when she is no longer ill at all,
her appetite appeased by sweet nut cakes
her mother bakes for her, the crumbs
pressed flat as petals by an old
book’s pages. Ra-ta-plan, the soldiers
sing. Beneath cotton puff
mountain peaks, Marie waves
the tri-color and sings the Marseillaise
with the prettiest boys, the regiment dressed
in tinsel-tassel uniforms as flashy as those
adorning the toy warriors in the window
of Dorinda’s favorite Christmas store.
Marie’s no foundling after all
but daughter of nobility betrothed
to a handsome, shy Tyrolean
whose high Cs tease Dorinda,
too, seducing her quicker than kisses
would, reducing her to sighs like those
she’s sure she’d breathe in a lover’s arms.
Dinorah stands among her father’s goats,
singing to them her favorite goat songs,
daisies twined round her braided hair–
like her own, Dorinda notices, tugging
on one with fingers sticky from licorice.
Cow bells tinkle, like the cry of snow
at dawn as it begins to shift above
the goatherd’s cabin in early spring.
Inside, her mother sews a lacy dress.
How sleepy she must feel, grown weary
of these mountains. Yawning, Dorinda
also counts how much of her girlhood
is left, wishing the years to come
to number no more than Dinorah’s herd,
grazing for the summer in their pasture.
All this is mere prologue, Dorinda knows,
heard but not seen. As early as Act One,
in a valley darkened by war, Dinorah
will lose her last goat, her love, her mind
and sing a shadow song glacier-cold.
Cio-cio-san stands in the middle
of the Bridge of Regret that curves over
the River of Sighs. Behind her lies
her girlhood, canebrake, and rushes
through which she’s just passed, lovely
as calligraphy. A white heron glides
over head on the scrim, its flight
like the stroke of an artist’s brush.
On the other side waits her womanhood,
the tea house, and the House of Pleasure.
An old man passes down the path,
a cricket cage dangling from a pole,
resting on his shoulder. “Go home,”
he warns. But Butterfly is already singing
her entrance aria and on the crest
above her her American sailor waits.
She’s barely fifteen, just two years older
than Dorinda, who weeps at the end
of her story, fearful if men keep warring
Cio-cio-san’s fate might be her own.
Blackout. Shades drawn. Curtains
closed. Standing high above the others
startled out of their slumber by a frightened
doorman, Dorinda wakes to find
herself like Amina in La Sonnambula
walking on air. The church clock
strikes six. A policeman blows
his whistle. Though she can smell bread
baking and coffee brewing, she lifts
her skirt and climbs up a cloud as easily
as stairs. Her mother snaps, “How dare
you!” Her father orders, “Come down!”
Her brother cries, “Dorinda, I believe you!”
Too happy to reply, she smiles at heaven.
Her loosened hair streams bright
as the rising sun. Or bright as the moonlight
on the bridge she and her sweetheart
are crossing, her partner guiding each gliding
step upward like a dancer, holding her
gently while she executes her point work.