Hans exaggerated when he had written
that she threw herself into the sea
after her beloved prince became smitten
with a more talkative beauty.
She did not, in fact, become a bubbly spirit
nor simply die in the tossing sea foam,
nor go up to heaven, or anywhere near it,
nor beg the sea witch to let her return home.
Rather, she went wandering away from Denmark
and became lost in Germany, and then France.
Homeless, she was found starving in a park
by a kindly woman, who saw her by chance.
The woman happened to be a teacher of ballet
who owned her own school in Paris
and she felt pity for the girl, asking her valet
to stop and invite her to lunch on the terrace.
As the woman watched the girl eat she bethought
that the lithe, pretty thing had a certain essence
which could be transformed, if only trained and taught
to dance; she had a certain stage presence.
While the girl could not talk, she could nod
and so when asked if she would like to live with her
she answered “Yes” and the woman said, “Then, by God,
we will have you dancing hence thither!”
Because her tongue had been cut out to pay
the witch so she could walk on land
she could not talk and gossip and flirt everyday
like the other girls under the old woman’s guiding hand.
Undistracted, she practiced with her human legs
to finely tune their muscles and sinews
until she could dance unfaltering along pointy pegs
only on her toeballs, and without ballerina shoes.
Pain, too, was an apt teacher for her
as the spell’s knives cut her in her swirls
and so her acrobatics were airy, yet surer
than any of the other ballerina girls.
Such a deft foot when she danced!
Each step was cautious of the spell’s sharp bite
so while she spun and leapt and pranced
she did so soft as a falling feather, and just as light.
She could also tip-toe in perfect rhythm
to the most chaotic, jazziest piano tempo
and, while in a group, pirouette in harmony with them,
her arms arced above her head, or akimbo.
In time she unburdened her heavy heart
of that old barnacled anchor that was Love
and excelled at every single dancing art,
so weightless of form she seemed to float up above.
Famous, yet nameless, she was dubbed “Ariel”
for she danced as if upon the very air
and was as powerful as Shakespeare’s fairy thrall
in stirring tempests in hearts everywhere.
For her dance was of the air and of the sea
united between the two, as a swirling hurricane
that comes ashore, a terrifying beauty
whose expression was joy and sorrow and pain.
She danced only once in her prince’s palace,
unrecognized in her ballerina outfit
as her prince peered lazily over his chalice—
his dark eye indifferent about it.
He had grown tired of his new wife, and her prattle,
and “Ariel” smiled to know she escaped a fate so fraught
as being bound to one who viewed people as chattel
and could not care less what his wife thought.
She left his palace with the rest of her troupe
and looked out upon the sea, where diamonds burn,
watching in the shallows an array of fins in a group
that waited for their princess’s return.