Ballet of the Hors d'Oeuvre

The gentlemen down front
at the Opera House,
the pretended balletomanes
who crowd the best seats
for calf- and leg-views,
brood over the program.

Tonight’s dance interval
amid the modernist opera’s
banging and clanging is — what? —
Ballet of the Hors d'Oeuvre.
“Horse Doovers?” asks one.
“Whore’s Works!” another,
adept at translation (he is after all
an international banker) says
assuredly. A third,
the monocled one, harrumphs
and simply pronounces
“Or derve, gentlemen,
as in — appetizers.”

A welcome roll from the timpani
muffles the disgrace
of the top-hat tycoons
as the ballet commences.
The music is, thank God, melodic.

First come the celery sticks,
vaguely aphrodisiac,
stalking on stage in stiff
march time, leaf-fringed
and vertical, tilting in time
to the Danse Crudité
and deftly choreographed
considering the absence
of any visible eyes.

As if to mock men’s
expectations of limbs exposed,
two dozen chicken wings
crab-walk in unison
from left to right, then
right to left, then leap
into a wagon, a heap
of unappealing angles,
pulled off the stage
by a Harlequin cat.

Seedless grapes tumble
to a fast gigue
around a gaggle
of dowager strawberries,
the vast Chernobyl kind,
red-rouged, bewigged
with vernal leafage,
plump and no doubt
devoid of any trace of flavor.

To a Chinese flute, squat
four-lobed dumplings arrive
tip-toe on red shoes
scarcely visible
beneath the deep-fried
ballooning gowns.
Slow sarabanding,
the Crabs Rangoon
accelerate to dervish
then spin off stage.

A Danse GĂ©nerale
of crackers, round and square,
pair off against various
cheeses in national attire
raising the whole affair
to a Tchaikovskian frenzy.
Skirts fly, thighs bulge, as,
cubed, sliced, and quartered,
yellow and white, blue and orange,
they whirl and pair, unpair and tease
the desperate and crumbling crackers.
Then, finally, a show of stage magic
as each cheese maid slides through
the narrow blade of a slicer
and emerges as two likenesses,
whirling accelerando
until every Tilsit, Gouda,
Cheddar and Blue
meets her destined cracker
and goes obscenely
horizontal.

The front row gentlemen
are beside themselves
as the curtain falls.
What to do until the third act?
Backstage in the Green Room
where the undressing, redressing
ballerinas pretend not to be watched
by the drooling financiers,
what was one to do?

“I suppose,” the monocled one hazards,
“although we’re not even sure
which were the ladies,
we could go back for a nibble.”

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