In the film, transferred to DVD—my brother’s
bar mitzvah reception—we’re all in tuxedos,
us Gardner men, even 4-year-old me,
cute with curly hair and a black bowtie.
Not judging for once, my father smiles,
maybe from Seagram’s, and dances with me.
He holds my hands as we stomp around and around.
The film is silent but I remember the band
playing that year’s hit, Papa, Won’t You
Dance With Me? In the show it’s from,
Papa’s what the leading lady calls her husband—
we didn’t know that, hearing the peppy polka
we danced to, as we circled the floor
of the social hall.
Theodore Roethke based his famous poem
on his drunk papa clutching him in a waltz
through the kitchen. A novelist, James Brown (not the singer
and white anyway), wrote of his boozing dad
as a tape played Patsy Cline’s Crazy:
“I let him take my hands and guide me across
the cracked and yellowed linoleum.”
Who would imagine so many fathers dancing
with their little sons! I remember, or think
I remember, holding my young son and moving,
rhythmic and joyful, to something on the stereo.
Maybe I’d been drinking. Like Hasids, like Greeks
in tavernas—fathers and sons, dancing—dancing—
till time stops the music and spins us apart.