Terrible Poem Breakdown: “The Dancer”

O Poetry! / I sing your praises / hat in hand / my love for you / cannot withstand…

Come on! We’ve all been there, scribbling away, versifying. You remember: angry rants, young professions of love, jerry-rigged end rhymes, on and on and on. We’ve all been in high school! It happens! And what then? You crumple them up and throw them away. Right? Or you keep them. Maybe you submit them to little journals or the New Yorker.

And then there are those that find their way to me. And I let their agonizing sincerity (coupled with their lack of quality) wash over my discerning mind and try to feel whatever emotion the poet was trying to convey. Sometimes the results are mixed; other times they’re just all bad. Always (I like to think) the game is worth the candle.

The usual reminder: the Terrible Poem Breakdown series looks upon failed poems and describe their impact on me. The only two rules are that 1) the writer is completely on board with being criticized, and 2) the poem cannot be willfully bad.

Here we go!

The Dancer

Every parent knows the feeling of unexpected joy.
The moments when you realize how godlike you are.
For me it happened during a hike through Youtube.
I thought I’d show my boys Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling
While they’re young enough not to know the camera trickery,
And to be astounded by the man’s supernatural powers:
His dancing magic.
In walks Fred, wearing a tux.
I lifted my hand from the mouse and was settling in
When my youngest cried, “He looks like you, coming home from work!”
Which made me laugh out loud.
That night, at bedtime, the boys were causing trouble on purpose, refusing to settle down.
I deployed my strategy of Effective Teasing,
The proper balance of making a point with humor, with a degree of directness they could handle.
“Oh,” I said, “I can’t wait until I’m old and gray, and I come to visit you and your boys.
They’ll be causing trouble at bedtime
And I’ll laugh and laugh and laugh.”
This quieted them (after a few giggles).
I kissed their foreheads and tugged their blankets into place.
My hand was on the knob when my oldest called out:
“And when we’re old and gray, you’ll be dead!”
Freezing me in the doorway.
We could stop by saying that parenting reduces the self.
The unexpected flattery that buoys you up, the innocent truthtelling that tears you down.
But it goes deeper (and by it I mean the obliteration of the self).
Because I had grown.
In the morning I hadn’t thought about me and the dumb monkey costume that I wear to my job.
No, I thought how my youngest has not yet learned the difference between a suit and a tux
And that there will come a day where he’ll see that I am worlds away from Fred Astaire,
Sartorially and otherwise.
And I was not sad but eager to teach: those are important distinctions for his future ability to function and thrive in society.
And at night, shocked by my mortality, and the pain at being reminded that if all goes well I’ll be outlived by my boys, I felt a kind of pride.
My oldest son was correct. He had learned something essential about life.
He knew how time progresses and what’s in store for us all.
He was growing, as he needed to be.
And maybe he sensed, without truly understanding, that for every step he takes, his parent is taking steps too.
And behind those steps is a kind of magic.

Jesus, how many poems are about Death? One wonders if that in and of itself is enough to separate us from other species. We no longer stand alone as toolmakers. Are dolphins whistling to each other about the pains of getting older and dying? Hmm.

This one is dripping with sentiment, which is of course not great for a poem. On the other hand, I should say that this could have been so much worse! Parents of young children? Could there be a more sentimental state of mind? You’re filled with urges to share the goopiest of sentiments. It’s only human! Though maybe not exclusively human – I would imagine that dolphins are whistling away about this too. Anyway, this poem heads in the direction of Ain’t We Cute but swerves away at the last second. It kind of swerves off a cliff, of course, but nevertheless I appreciate the swerve. Good swerve, poet! Bad poem… but good swerve!

As always, my thanks to the poet for being a good sport and for agreeing to submit to the Terrible Poetry scrutiny. Now it’s back to the submissions pile. Maybe something shorter next time? Something funny? I’ll take a look.

Other Poems in the Terrible Poem Breakdown Series:


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