Learning to Dance, 1956

For Marlene Broich

It was the 50s, and all of us
were kids, but you were older—
almost a woman—and you would

teach me to dance. You were
the dark-haired child in a family
of blondes, slightly exotic, wilder,

my best friend’s sister.
In your father’s basement,
you took my hand and showed me

how to hold you—how to hold
a woman. I was fourteen and knew
already how to be awkward. You knew

I was falling into shadows. When I breathed
your hair, I was no longer in the forest
but had broken through

to a clearing where tall grasses whispered
and swayed, where white-petalled daisies
and violet clover blossomed in profusion.

You moved me deeper into the music
and made a meadow spring up around me.
Your body showed me that I had strength

to change the moment, if only the quiet
power of a summer breeze . . .
When you said I would be a good dancer,

that I had rhythmthat I could swing,
I held you close: some day,
I would find the one

who would pull me near to her in love,
not mercy; I would dance with her
and learn her secret names.


First Dance

The music crooned,
muting the cries
of young bodies
in the dark
amplifying hungers:
we were awkward
into fruitless
on stiff couches:
ungainly, acned,
by promises . . .
the insistent music
teasing us into
promising tenderness,
satisfied hands,
a taste of unison—
swearing we could move
between successes

You were prim
as a ballerina
but less steady:
in our pas de deux
I pulled you close
as I could,
with restrictions—
you moved when I moved
but kept your distance


© 2002 Charles Fishman

Charles Fishman is director of the Distinguished Speakers Program at the State University of New York at Farmingdale, where he previously directed the Visiting Writers Program for 18 years. His books include Mortal Companions, The Firewalkers, Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust, and The Death Mazurka (Timberline Press), which was selected by the American Library Association as one of the outstanding books of the year (1989) and nominated for the 1990 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. He was final judge for the 1998 Capricorn Book Award, served as Poetry Editor for both the Journal of Genocide Studies and Cistercian Studies Quarterly, and is currently Associate Editor of The Drunken Boat, a Web-based poetry review. His 7th chapbook, Time Travel Reports, was published by Timberline Press in Fall 2002, and his next booklength collection, Chopin’s Piano, will be released by Cross-Cultural Communications in 2003.. He can be reached at either carolus[AT]optonline.net or fishman[AT]farmingdale.edu (replace [AT] with @).

For more of his work in TheScreamOnline, visit the Talent Index.