for Robert Cantwell, adapting a phrase of his –Sherman Oaks, California, 1996

The dance floor is an oval incandescence

against the dark, and they are spectral in it,

my mother and father, as they glide across.

It’s taken them half a century to get here.

Although his hand shakes, and her back is stooped,

he’s in his pinstripes, she in her green taffeta.

Nearly midnight. The calendar pages flutter

backward in the breeze of melody,

her eyes half closed, embrace me, she is smiling,

moving as if alone, the way a girl does

before a mirror, twirling and swaying in

and out of an imagined lover’s arms,

while he looks on, don’t be a naughty baby,

his face lordly with pleasure, pleasure of mastery–

come to papa, come to papa, do

that’s so complete it’s more anticipation

than control, the way his hand, my sweet

embraceable you, his fingers hardly need

to touch her fingers, guiding her every move.

The pages flutter backward in the breeze.

It’s taken them half a century to get here.

Beyond the dance floor, in the shadows there

are stockyards at the outskirts of the city;

there are mills and foundries, and along the Charles,

the abattoir has shut down for the night:

there is no work tomorrow, and they can be

only their best ideas about themselves,

their bodies, embraceable, aristocratic,

they are peasants with a little cash to burn,

don’t be a naughty baby, they are greenhorns,

come to papa, in the New World dreaming

not of a levelling of rich and poor–

the Irish are all lushes, the Negroes lazy–

but a carnival reversal, come to papa

come to papa do. It’s nearly midnight,

nearly a new millennium. There have been wars.

There have been foreclosures and estrangements,

a son’s divorce, a daughter’s death. But now,

the pages fluttering backward as they dance,

it’s all forgotten, even unforeseen.

How young they are, and hopeful. Let’s leave them now

before the song ends, and they wake, bewildered,

in the Aloha Room, to everything

it’s taken them half a century to get.