Song and Dance

By Alan R. Shapiro b. 1952
Did you ever have a family?   
                                                    Dark   
dining room,
                  bright kitchen,
                                        white steam
from the big pot my mother’s stirring   
reaching in wavy tendrils to her face,   
around her face, all the way around   
to me at the table, then beyond me   
into the darkness where my brother is.

Were you ever a child?
                                             I’m hungry   
but I know we’ll
                         eat soon,      
                                           so
even the hunger’s sweet.

Did you ever really have a brother?
                                                                  He’s singing   
there in the dark
                           corner
                                     beside the stereo,
the volume turned down so low   
all we hear is him, his voice, and   
his eyes are closed so that there’s   
nothing around him anywhere
that might reveal he isn’t
who the song insists he is.

And that is?
                           Irresistible,
unforgettable,         
                            someone         
                                              to whom   
as in imaginary gardens
where “the nectarine and curious
peach into my hands themselves
do reach,” love comes as soon
as called, comes just as dreamed.

Did any of this ever happen?
                                                    The hunger’s
sweet,
          it’s as if
                           the song weaves
through the fragrance of the braiding   
steam from him to me to her
to me to him because her eyes
are closed now too; her
slippered feet tap, caper
a soft shoe while the ladle
sways in her hand as she stirs.

Were you ever a child?
                                             I know
I’ll eat soon.         
                           Did you ever really have a brother?
You should have      
                            heard him,   
                                              his voice was   
unforgettable, irresistible, his voice
was an imaginary garden woven through with fragrance.   

Did you ever have a family?
                                                   Their eyes are closed.   
That’s how I know      
                              we’re there   
                                                   inside it,   
it’s made of sound and steam
that weaves between dark
dining room, bright kitchen.   
We’re there because I’m hungry,   
and we’ll all be eating soon
together, and the hunger’s sweet.

Alan Shapiro, “Song and Dance” from Song and Dance. Copyright © 2002 by Alan Shapiro. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved, www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com.

Source: Song and Dance (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002)

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Poet Alan R. Shapiro b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Home Life, Music, Relationships, Arts & Sciences

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Alan R. Shapiro

Biography

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Alan Shapiro was educated at Brandeis University. As the author of numerous collections of poetry, Shapiro has explored family, loss, domesticity, and the daily aspects of people’s lives in free verse and traditional poetic forms. He has published over ten books of poetry, most recently Reel to Reel (2014); Night of the Republic (2012), a finalist for the National Book Award and the Griffin Prize; . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Home Life, Music, Relationships, Arts & Sciences

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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