"At the Dance"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Aug. 11 2009 7:07 AM

"At the Dance"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear  Louise Glück read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.
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Twice a year we hung the Christmas lights—
at Christmas for our Lord's birth, and at the end of August,
as a blessing on the harvest—
near the end but before the end
and everyone would come to see,
even the oldest people who could hardly walk—

They had to see the colored lights,
and in summer there was always music, too—
music and dancing.

For the young, it was everything.
Your life was made here—what was finished under the stars
started in the lights of the plaza.
Haze of cigarettes, the women gathered under the colored awnings
singing along with whatever songs were popular that year,
cheeks brown from the sun and red from the wine.

I remember all of it—my friends and I, how we were changed by the music,
and the women, I remember how bold they were, the timid ones
along with the others—

A spell was on us, but it was a sickness too,
the men and women choosing each otheralmost by accident, randomly,
and the lights glittering, misleading,
because whatever you did then you did forever—

And it seemed at the time
such a game, really—lighthearted, casual,
dissipating like smoke, like perfume between a woman's breasts,
intense because your eyes are closed.

How were these things decided?
By smell, by feel—a man would approach a woman,
ask her to dance, but what it meant was
will you let me touch you, and the woman could say
many things, ask me later, she could say, ask me again.
Or she could say no, and turn away,
as though if nothing but you happened that night
you still weren't enough, or she could say yes, I'd love to dance
which meant yes, I want to be touched.

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Louise Glück's new book, A Village Life, will appear this September.