Sample Poems from Ballroom

by Lyn Lifshin


Some days he’s the sheik, he’s
Valentino, slicked back hair
for a dangerous tango. A
day later it’s jeans, the bad
boy, the hipster. His sneer
pierces. His beard grows in
over night. Some days he’s
French, some days Italian.
He’s the sheik in more ways
than one. The heart breaker,
the Valentino. Tango with
him and he leaves a stain.
One day he’ll bring you
chocolate, another he’s in his
Fred Astaire hat, is the dance
away lover. Too many women
linger near his tent. Valentino
in a pale striped summer
suit, Valentino in the tuxedo.
The days he’s Viennese,
your feet won’t touch the
ground. He smells sweet as
he says you do. For beat or
hippy days, his sweat smells,
thrills some. If death gets
him young like Valentino,
the train with his gorgeous corpse
would stall traffic. Long haired
girls, blue as the silver bloom,
or the tart and sweet blueberry
will cry and no one no one will
know who he went out as


only the ball gowns are lovely,
$4,500 for gold and sequins
and silk, a little less for a
black tulip floating over
rose petals. Once these women
were as young as these studs,
the young male dancers.
Trapped in suburban kitchens
maybe or waiting for some
man to come back from
war to run into offices where
their young secretaries played
at adoring them or did. Now,
it’s the women’s turn. Some
still slim, some with chiseled
cheek bones. But all with
enough money now that it’s
their time to play. Why check
the personals for a man their
age probably looking for a
nurse or a woman who will drive
them to doctors or early bird
dinners when a handsome
ballroom dude, gorgeous often
and trying to please can whisk
them off to Las Vegas, smile
with adoration as they compete
before the ballroom dancing judge
and gallantly drop them
off at their room. No fuss no
muss while he goes off to get
drunk and do a little karaoke.
The women need their beauty
sleep, might or might not think
of dead husbands, know they can
play the dance field as long
as they can pay. The delicious
boy toys can’t afford to escape
with the young beauties they’d
chose. And much as they love
the foxtrot, Stepping Out and
the swing’s Spin a While, for
them, too, it will only be
a while


you try a few dances with
a few of the better men,
bolero or waltz, see
how they measure
up. I like the slow
dances best, like
dating, making love,
making a poem
that jolts or makes
somebody giggle.
At some point
I decide who I
like best (ok, I
won’t pretend, esp.
on paper I
haven’t) and then
I want to dance like
having mind blowing,
condom-less sex,
imagine like
Li Po there is
no end to things


something animal
wild to spring,
the dream sweep
then the world
chase. That snap,
red silk the
onyx tango that
isn’t for the sky,
a blood tango,
knife the breaks,
always the edge
slivering close.
Sometimes I am the
red shoes
vixen asked “do you
want to live?” she
was poised to leap,
she was something in
me suspended in
arms, the pounding
the deepest. Asked
do you want to
live, wind from the
metro tunnel, a
lover, in tango,
always the red shoes.
Did she want to live?
She had to dance


don’t jump to conclusions.
Yes she was in clothes
that looked like mine
at the edge of the fire
place when suddenly, in
the coals, a man seemed
to leap out. He was a
dancer, a conjuror,
disappearing behind
wild flame only to stand
before her like an oak.
I think of that Indian film
where a woman no man
is wild for marries a
tree. Then his branches
sweep her off, yes,
the old cliché, her feet,
grazed the dance floor.
Then, a sudden leap as if
the spring of a watch
had broken before her.
Velvety, he kept saying
her voice was. It was
the velvety flute sound
that made her remember
this but the waltz shifted
like a building collapsing.
It was all staccato, it
was a dangerous tango.
It was long ago but
the feel of his body
won’t dissolve


as if Nijinsky
slivered in a side
door, lit up
the mirrors
something from
another world.
When he turned
like an electric dreidel
not a man or a
woman wouldn’t
have thrown him
flowers. Diamonds
burned around him,
a circle of candles
Somewhere deeper,
he is growing in
a hot house
if he stays,
you’ll live like
a leaf and die
like a rose


don’t race ahead
like a runaway train,
oblivious, unsure
I’m still with you.
Don’t jerk me in one
direction then the
next, yanking my
arm out of its socket.
I’m not 6 four and
if you are, be careful.
No wonder some
times the woman
leans her head back
to the left, except in
promenade when
there’s no chance of
having to smell the
other’s breath. They
do have mints in a
jar. Please use them.
Don’t grab for a
woman’s boobs or
crotch or whistle or
snap your fingers.
And don’t snarl, get
snarky with your
girlfriend or wife
so every step is like
pushing pianos
and you make #234,
top of the ball
room jerk list


petals fall from
the vase of orchids.
The girls pale as
the flowers, sitting
thru what should
be the most special
waltz, their pastel
smiles. He looks
away from the
other beauties.
In the arms of the
one she won’t stop
imagining will be
hers, what you
can’t see, she is
falling like the petals,
naked in fawn and
rose lace


Dark doors glitter,
light as a ballerina
with feet of rose
petals. On my wrists,
jasmine and the
scent of sex French
women I’ve heard
dab behind their ears.
Nothing but rubies
and tuber rose in
my hair, I melt into
others. This chain
of light, this moving
thru phosphorescence
and then, holding the
one I never could,
moving together
like young trees with
wind on their branches


dancing along the Charles
with the man she couldn’t marry.
Fireflies, like miniature flashlights.
In photographs the Sycamore
breeze twists their hair together.
“To my angel” and love on
the back. Moving like birds on
fire they danced past benches of
lovers. It was the last dance
before she eloped. Words were
turned to weapons. When she was,
she was more there than ever,
would always be beautiful with
only pearls and jasmine in her hair


it’s as much part of
her as a blue concentration
camp tattoo. It defines
her. It is blue that does
not dissolve, spreads
deeper thru her body.
You don’t see it under
her Betsey Johnson and
Bebe clothes. She imagines
she can disguise it,
camouflage how she shakes.
When any man who matters
moves close then passes her
by to dance with another
she feels sick. She could
pay scads of face time with
a pro, like buying a gigolo,
admitting that’s the only
way she’ll get what she


I would be invisible
as fireflies under snow.
I would watch his
grace, hear his voice
from a distance,
objective, impassive
as cats that see things
as they are. They
wouldn’t confuse a
kiss, a few words for
plates of sardines
or the warm cove of
arms as some
permanent address.
In the poem I want to
write, I would be
graceful as cats, and
beautiful. I could be
stretching out in
the beauty of his
moves as they do
patches of sun and
know it moves on,
how light will appear
in other places