This is your incentive for having integrity…

She can't stop thinking that the woman has a politician's smile
All gleaming promises and no follow-through
A gilded pretense of straight, white teeth,
And corruption painted over
And even the most obtuse child knows that,
"Oh, what big teeth, you have!" is in no way a prelude to sincerity
But she also knows what she wants
Can only be obtained by smiling at a wolf in lace
And pretending to see a wise old woman and mentor there instead
The woman knows this, too, and it lingers in the smug shadows of
Her smoke and mirror smile
Sell me your soul, it whispers, and I will repay you with
everything you ever wanted.
Not that she's so sure what she wants now
After all, she used to think she wanted to be like her
So, the woman offers her hand, the invisible contract
Signed in blood
And the girl shakes her head helplessly and gestures
At her right hand, which is clasped tightly around
Something the woman cannot see, does not know
"I'm sorry," says the girl, sounding genuinely so,
"But I cannot shake your hand."
Then with her clenched fist, she waves goodbye
To everything she ever wanted,
And she tells herself that someday, it will be worth it.

She is still waiting for someday on the day
When he asks her to be his wife
And beautiful possibility clothes her dreams and ambitions
In pure, downy white
But the ever-present warmth in her closed palm, unbidden, beats a soft warning
Will you share your heart?
Will you choose to bear your ultimate compromise?
Will you go where he goes, 'till death do you apart?
Do you want that of your life?
I don't, I don't, she thinks,
As her independence admonishes her for even
Considering giving it away,
She curses the weight she carries
She considers throwing it across the room,
Letting it scatter like a skipping stone,
And watching it shatter into a million little
Pieces on the concrete, rid of its limitation forever
But this she will only consider,
Because she knows that if she traded what she carries
For a ring on her grasping finger,
She would have to live with herself forever,
Herself and him
"I can't," she admits, with equal measures of regret and relief,
Eyes downcast, fingers tightening, she tells him,
"My hand is already taken."

So the next morning, when she awakes and stretches
To take a handful of the sunshine on her pillowcase,
She realizes she cannot catch it with only one free hand,
Then she decides she must climb a mountain,
Because she's beginning to become very afraid
Of what she cannot accomplish
And she needs to prove herself wrong, or try
At the bottom, she meets a man, who takes one
Look at her, and says, "Listen, if you would
Just do this one tiny thing for me, I'll let
You ride the elevator to the top."
And she looks at him, hand curling into a fist
Until the smooth, mysterious oval inside burns
A tattoo on her palm
His own hands are soft and flawless, from
Never fighting for anything himself
From handling money he did not earn
To buy him an ease he never paid for
"Thanks for the offer," she says, though she does
Not mean it, "But I'd much rather find my own
Way to the top."
Then she sighs prettily, theatrically, and murmurs,
"Besides, there's no way I could spare a finger to
Press the elevator button like this."
She touches her fist lightly to his soft shoulder
As she turns to take the slick, frigid stairs
"My hands are full."

She's sure that she can make it to the peak of her existence
Step by purposeful step
Because she is exhausted, and frost-bitten, and defiant, and young
And she can see the man who took the easy way up
Just above her, barely breaking a sweat or affecting a chill
She wants to show him
But her footing falters, she slips, and soon, she's dangling,
Like a circus failure clutching a flimsy tightrope
Except she doesn't have a free hand to support her
And she will not let go
Immediately, he's at the lip of the chasm, holding out
His own pampered hand, saying "Hold on, quick!
Take my hand!"
He doesn't understand taking his hand, would really be
And she has no time to explain, except to say,
"I'm sorry. I just can't. I promised myself I would
Always hold onto

Then she's falling, and she knows it
But she still holds the presence in her right hand tight
She wonders fleetingly what her life would have been like,
If it would have lasted longer and sweeter
If she could just go back and change every decision
She ever made to the easy one
If she surrendered her grasp
But she can't go back, and she wouldn't
So she stretches her arms in the air audaciously
An imperfect halo, a ballerina off her Prozac
She leaps, twirls, and free falls
No perfect structure of a perfect minuet
No gravity of form or sound
To tie her down
No rigid sonnet of her body
Unexpectedly, she has won
For she can feel the wind in her hair
And in the crevices of her clutching fist
So she knows
She never let go
Not even when gravity took her home
And her moral high ground sunk into the snow

That way, when a young woman and her boyfriend at the time
Are walking through the snow together, mitten in mitten,
She releases his hand, startled, exclaims that
There's someone lying in the snow ahead
And they should do something
Then he gives her an avalanche of reasons why they shouldn't
It's none of their business anyway (and how would it look?),
It's best not to get involved, and they both know it would
Be so much easier to just keep on walking
And choose not to see a vacant snow angel in their path
Then it catches her eye- a small something in the figure's open palm
Shining with an understated gravity
"It's just a rock," her boyfriend pronounces rather disdainfully,
As if reading her mind (she wishes he wouldn't)
But still, she steps around him and dusts off the smooth stone
And she finds it is made of warm, blown glass
If she holds it up to her face, it makes a perfect, merciless mirror
So her self stares back at her fiercely and proclaims,
This is who you are.
It is incredible, she thinks, that it didn't break during the fall
"Are you coming?" her boyfriend demands
Answering his own question by holding out a hand
He expects she will take
But she shakes her head helplessly and
She lets his hand hang, suspended and empty, in the air
Then she turns her back to him,
Awaiting her retribution for holding on
To what she believes in