TRIGGER WARNING: childhood trauma, father, abuse, molestation
When I was in an undergrad lit class, we were assigned poems to read and this was one. I had to dig it up online today and found it with keywords “father – dance – such waltzing was not easy”
My Papa’s Waltz (Theodore Roethke)
The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.
We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.
The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.
You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.
When the professor asked the small class if anyone FELT anything after reading the poem, I raised my hand and said it sounded like a cry for help. The puzzled look on her face should have stopped me, but I added the poem was a story of abuse.
She asked for a show of hands… how many others agreed? In that room of 20 students, one other raised her hand. There we were… the two of us… strangers but understanding each other while everyone else look baffled. I’d like to say the instructor realized what this said about our past and entertained that the poem could elicit those feelings, but she wasn’t. She plowed ahead with her planned lecture. We were supposed to FEEL the tempo, appreciate the way the poet danced us through the piece. The girl and I held eye contact briefly. I saw her. She saw me.
I am at home working remotely (a perk of my job) and listening to Evanescence of all things. Yup, I’m a bit emo today.
And then “My Immortal” came on and I did not hear it as the standard love song at all… it cut to my heart… my father… my immortal… my me. And all of the sudden that song took on a whole different (albeit sinister) depth. I thought of that poem (stuck in my brain all these years later) and I marveled at how crazy-complicated it can be, when the people we love so desperately are not good for us.
The tangled love and need and pain and utter disappointment… palpable these days. For whatever reason, my father seems to be just one song… one poem… one picture… one phrase away… just right there on the cusp of my sentience and ready to pounce on me, ripping away scars to make way for fresh wounds.
I do not understand it. I do not know why now… why here…
And so I write. I press these thoughts and feelings onto electronic page and send them off. Mostly to just get them out of my head and heart (even if only for a few minutes) but also… in case someone is out there that just needs to be seen.