My husband and I took up ballroom dancing and a whole series of poems emerged because of that, forming the nucleus of a book that is called American Smooth. I will read that title poem for you.

American Smooth

We were dancing – it must have
been a foxtrot or a waltz,
something romantic but
requiring restraint,
rise and fall, precise
execution as we moved
into the next song without
stopping, two chests heaving
above a seven-league
stride – such perfect agony
one learns to smile through,
ecstatic mimicry
being the sine qua non
of American Smooth.
And because I was distracted
by the effort of
keeping my frame
(the leftward lean, head turned
just enough to gaze out
past your ear and always
smiling, smiling),
I didn’t notice
how still you’d become until
we had done it
(for two measures?
four?) – achieved flight,
that swift and serene
magnificence,
before the earth
remembered who we were
and brought us down.

From American Smooth (W W Norton & Co. Inc., 2004; originally published in The New Yorker on 3 February 2003), copyright Rita Dove 2006, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

Rita Dove in the Poetry Store

The free tracks you can enjoy in the Poetry Archive are a selection of a poet’s work. Our catalogue store includes many more recordings which you can download to your device.

Close