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
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.

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