Today's poem is by Wesley McNair

Dancing in Tennessee

How was he to know, when his father left them
and his mother took him by the hand
to her clothes closet, screaming

because he did not understand how to behave
and because, alone and lost, she herself
did not understand how to behave,
that this was the room she led him to,

20B in the nursing home, where he sat
once more in the dim light among her slippers
and shoes, calling out to her, "Mama, Mama,"

though now she was right there
in her bed, half-deaf, eyes wide open
in her blindness, her teeth out,
breathing rapidly through her mouth?

How could he have known when she whipped him
as if she would never stop because his father
loved someone else, it was the shock

of this final unbelievable lovelessness
she was preparing him for? All gone, her years
afterward with the new man, and the house
and farm she helped build to replace

the hopes that she once had. Gone
to ruin, the house and the farm,
but never mind. And never mind

her lifelong anger, and all her failures
of the heart: this was not his mother.
Lying on her stroke side, her nose
a bony thing between her eyes that blinked

and blinked so he could see behind them
to her fear, she was a creature
whose body had failed, and he had no way

to reach except through her favorite song
he sang as a boy to lift the grief from her face,
and began to sing now, "The Tennessee Waltz,"
understanding at last that its tale of love stolen

and denied was the pure inescapable
story of her life — his father the stolen
sweetheart she never forgave

or forgot. It didn't matter that she could not
see him beside her there or, struggling for air,
she was unable to eat or drink
or sing. He took her good hand in his

and rocked her and sang for them both,
his mother discovering once more in the tips
of her fingers what touch was like,

and he discovering too, while he sang on
and on, stealing her back from this moment
in the small, dim room where she lay dying,
and they danced and danced.

Copyright © 2014 Wesley McNair All rights reserved
from The Lost Child
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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