The Twelve Dancing Princesses

by Joseph Stanton

I found myself an old sailor of fortune

cast up on this chessboard of a kingdom,

weary of weariness

and ready to risk all for a song.

Princesses — supple, pale, and lovely as stars,

clustering around your unlovely moon of a father —

I could not resist your subtle allure.

I followed you down your night–long dream,

through trees heavy with dangerous light,

down to where sleep had made

a private passage and a dancing —

cruel, self-regarding, and entirely innocent —

that men have died for.

Wearing the cloak of absence,

I was not there when you looked for me,

but a tinkle of precious leaves

laughed high in your nervous shadows.

Secreting myself in your desires,

I rode the long glide

of your delicate vessels,

stroking through starless, oceanic darkness,

a kind of death you dreamed us into and through.

Down with you in your deep–seated castle,

I watched you whirl with your hard–dancing friends,

but I was all around you

like the scent of magnolias —

all around you,

drinking wine from under your prettily poised lips,

cavorting between and behind your dancing,

and generally making

an invisible fool of myself.

Coming back up,

I was ahead of your deadly game,

sprinting to put on a semblance of snoring.

Now that I have told the world about all this,

I will marry you, loveliest of ringleaders,

become king of your light–footed kingdom,

learn the latest Viennese moves,

and invest heavily in soft leather shoes.