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The Downstairs Dance Floor by Taylor Graham

The Downstairs Dance Floor

Winner of the 2005 Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize

“Taylor Graham’s The Downstairs Dance Floor is a collection that moves a cast of characters – mother, father, stepfather, child – from old photographs to lives tenuously clung to in contemporary nursing homes. Graham’s compassion for her elders bespeaks her own sense of mortality, and every poem here captures the exact details – the position of hands in a snapshot or the pieces of an unfinished jigsaw puzzle – that reveal a mature talent. Dancing effortlessly through forms as demanding as the pantoum and villanelle, Graham transforms memory into the memorable. I can speak only for myself, but I do wish the late Donald Justice could have read these elegant poems. I think he would have approved.”

~ R.S. Gwynn, Series Judge

 

JACARANDA

We agree on this,
it’s never been so gray.
The sky won’t rain.
The concrete entrance drive,
the stucco portico.
In the wings, old people

kept from dying.
We’ve got a hundred papers
to sign. We’re at a loss
for florid verse. And yet,
when no one’s listening,
we beg each other

for a word. Out the window
a jacaranda — exotic tree
with extravagant
cerulean blooms in summer —
droops its winter-
feathered leaves.

Imagine her in blue
boas, flamenco on a breeze.
Imagine
so we can’t forget.
At the tip of every twig
a castanet.

 

EIGHTY-EIGHT AND COUNTING

The old man stares ahead, no reason why.
The cat’s stretched sunning on the kitchen sill,
and now a flight of crows across the sky.

He’s got a jigsaw puzzle lying by
half-finished years ago, a test of skill.
The old man stares ahead. No reason why

he couldn’t turn the pieces where they lie;
but fitting things together calls for will.
And now a flight of crows across the sky

casts shadows. Do they mean to clarify
some age-old question about good and ill?
The old man stares ahead. No reason why.

For supper, Elena’s fixing chicken pie.
She always sees an old man gets his fill.
And now a flight of crows across the sky.

If asked, he whispers he would rather die.
But she just wipes her hands. With time to kill,
the old man stares ahead, no reason why,
and now a flight of crows across the sky.

 

TONIGHT AT THE YELLOW ROSE

Out on the floor
a blue jeans wrangler dances
with his partner in pastel, an easy
Texas two-step as the leather
boot-soles glide, skirts swirl,
the patterns change.
The lights are dim enough,
you don’t see faces, only feel
the pulse of fingers,
swing-steps steady
to the beat.

Country love-songs catch
like fishhooks in the throat
you can’t pull back, not even
when you’re in love with someone
who isn’t anymore—no matter
how he loved to dance.
            Tonight
it doesn’t matter
who’s your partner. Skirts
swing and heels click, the music
is the same old songs of wanting.

Tonight you’ll be dancing
with your cowboy.

 

 

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