The Progressive Canadian Barn Dance

The first time she wore the new dress

was at the farmer’s harvest dance

on a night breathless and warm.

Uneasy with her body’s new bloom

she would have sat the night out

had her mother not dragged her up

to be thrown around like a doll

from rough hands to rough hands,

from Anderson to Macgregor

from Macgregor to young Wilson

in his father’s tight tweed jacket,

from Wilson to club foot Brogan

from club foot Brogan to Lamberton

in his scabby working bunnet

from Lamberton to the moleman

from the moleman to his apprentice

staring at her in his strange way,

from the apprentice to Patterson,

who danced fast but talked slow.

From Patterson to Uncle Jack

(not her real uncle of course)

who held her too close and grinned

talked about how much she’d grown up.

She struggled free from his grip

found one of the Mackenzie boys

from one of them to another

with their shiny new market boots

and on to old Wilson with his crook

and on to his buddy Baxter

smelling of his black face flock;

from his strong stench to Anderson

scratching his ringworm;

from Anderson to Macgregor

who birled her until she was dizzy;

from Macgregor to young Wilson

(they say he’ll never be his father)

from Wilson to Brogan’s brown eyes,

from brown-eyed Brogan to Lamberton

who threw his bonnet on a seat.

She grabbed him. The pace quickened,

the dance lifting her dress up light as air,

she spun him away before moving on

from Lamberton to the moleman

sweating lochs through his winter shirt.

After the moleman his apprentice;

from the cross-eyed apprentice

to big Patterson flustered and red.

From Patterson on not to Uncle Jack

who was wheezing at the bar

but the clumsy Mackenzie boys

taking turns to bruise her feet

before passing her on to old Wilson

who staggered to keep up with her,

mentioned he once courted her mother—

Oh surely not she laughed out loud,

winked at him in a new confidence,

glanced back at her mother

then on to his drinking pal Baxter.

From his beery breath to Anderson

from Anderson to Macgregor

from Macgregor to young Wilson

from Wilson to Jonny Brogan

who clasped her hand tight, echoed

her smile and the music stopped.

from Black Cart (Freight Books, 2017) © Jim Carruth 2017, used by permission of the author

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