The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.
—Theodore Roethke, “My Papa’s Waltz”
What kind of music
Played for pickled Otto Roethke?
Sound coming forth from what?
Off what needle laboring?
Or did we hear a radio?
My father raised me to dance from overhead,
Not touching carpet.
Yes, there were pans and pots
But Mother lacked a flair for cooking.
No wine goblet to be found.
Dad’s nose had been broken
More than once, in competitions
That he won. Belts or buckles,
Chaps or straps of leather? No danger
Except in art, the way it takes church over.
Chairs’ toes tap. Gymnastics
Make a small girl stronger,
For, when jumpy and younger,
Soles learn to balance—
On those knuckles he liked to crack.
I ate birdlike, so far weighed little—
Tico-Tico, sparrow in the cornmeal,
Rufous-collared in the bran:
To the tempo of his favorite jazz, we sweated Latin.
Chorus: Canary in the granary.
Chocorado in fields of dry rice.
Tossed to his mimicking—the whistle
Of a red fruit-crow—off I flew.