The mystery isn’t in the feet,
left and right or left and left,
but in hand on small of back,
silent pressure, a presence
of body through clothes.
In fourth grade, we danced
in gym class, making squares
on green tile floor, lunch tables
pushed aside; this was our barn,
the record player called our tunes,
our movements. We were the interior
of a clock; allemande left, honor
your partner. We knew nothing
about honor then, or we were
learning it. We were too young
to hurt each other much.
If you wonder how you’re dancing,
you’re dancing badly. But I could
no more abandon this watchfulness
than I could unravel my skin,
walk around like that for a while.
In eighth grade, a boy, deer-nervous
and spiky-haired, asked me to dance.
I said no because I knew he was just
making fun of me. I fled to the restroom,
looked in the mirror to make sure I was
unacceptable, all wrong, and thus, right
to decline, right that there was no way
anyone could see me on the edge
of a gyrating circle and want
to pull me closer.
Sometimes you’re wrong
when you’re dancing
or not dancing.
Sometimes you only learn
the mistake later on, once
the streamers have been
taken down, all the punch
drunk, the boy gone home
or somewhere like home.