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Emily’s Corset by Stephanie Saywell

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Before ballet, Emily pulls off her shirt and all I see is white

brocade, six metal busks – a dainty spine sealing up

 

her stomach, bulletproof. She presents her back, her oxytocin formula

tattoo peeking over the seam. My fingers are there before me, hooked

 

through the corded bunny ears. I unbow and unknot, finally getting

to take off her clothes. I pull the modesty panel aside. My heart

 

attacks itself at the sight of her skin (or her crimson fedora halfway

across campus, or the way she eats french toast with her hands,

 

or when she pulls me away from my homework because the sun

is setting and then grabs my pinky toe in the grass and tells me it belongs

 

to her. And how after each boy dumps her, she hikes up her skirts

to run and collapse in my arms like a Brontë protagonist). I trace the waist tape

 

around to her front and ease rounded shafts from their washers. Her breath

pushes her shoulder blades into my breasts. The red base

 

of her braid brushes my ear as I place my chin on the cream

of her shoulder to better see my fingers. She steps out

 

and I am left holding the satin shell of her

20 inch waist, leaving her fleshy and exposed, somehow smaller

 

than she already was. She shimmies her tights over her knees

and tells me about an Austrian Empress who was stabbed with a file

 

that went right through her corset and into her heart,

but it wasn’t until she unlaced herself for bed that the hemorrhaging

 

that killed her could begin. Emily pulls the elastic waistband all the way up

to her ribs and then ties her sweater into a hug around her belly.

 

In front of me at the barre the curve of her waist is the inverted curve

of my elbow. After class, I will offer to weave string through grommet

 

and lace her back up into her steel bones, if this is what it takes

to make her feel held.

Stephanie Saywell (she/her/hers) is a queer, NYC-based choreographer, performer, and published poet. She holds two BAs (Dance & Written Arts) from Bard College and a Certificate of Completion from the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre’s Professional Training Program. She has studied poetry under the tutelage of Megan Falley, Ann Lauterbach, and Michael Ives, and short fiction under Paul LaFarge. Her work has been published in Ink & Letters and Muzzle Magazine. www.stephaniesaywell.com

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