Dancing on the Grave of a Son of a Bitch

By Diane Wakoski b. 1937 Diane Wakoski

Foreword to “Dancing on the Grave of a Son of a Bitch”

This poem is more properly a “dance poem” than a song or chant because the element of repetition is created by movements of language rather than duplicating words and sounds. However, it is in the spirit of ritual recitation that I wrote it/ a performance to drive away bad spirits perhaps.

The story behind the poem is this: a man and woman who have been living together for some time separate. Part of the pain of separation involves possessions which they had shared. They both angrily believe they should have what they want. She asks for some possession and he denies her the right to it. She replies that she gave him money for a possession which he has and therefore should have what she wants now. He replies that she has forgotten that for the number of years they lived together he never charged her rent and if he had she would now owe him $7,000.

She is appalled that he equates their history with a sum of money. She is even more furious to realize that this sum of money represents the entire rent on the apartment and implies that he should not have paid anything at all. She is furious. She kills him mentally. Once and for all she decides she is well rid of this man and that she shouldn’t feel sad at their parting. She decides to prove to herself that she’s glad he’s gone from her life. With joy she will dance on all the bad memories of their life together.


for my motorcycle betrayer

God damn it,
at last I am going to dance on your grave,
old man;
            you’ve stepped on my shadow once too often,   
you’ve been unfaithful to me with other women,
women so cheap and insipid it psychs me out to think I might   
ever
be put
in the same category with them;
you’ve left me alone so often that I might as well have been   
a homesteader in Alaska
these past years;
and you’ve left me, thrown me out of your life
often enough
that I might as well be a newspaper,
differently discarded each day.
Now you’re gone for good
and I don’t know why
but your leaving actually made me as miserable
as an earthworm with no
earth,
but now I’ve crawled out of the ground where you stomped me   
and I gradually stand taller and taller each
day.
I have learned to sing new songs,
and as I sing,
I’m going to dance on your grave
because you are
          dead   
          dead   
          dead
under the earth with the rest of the shit,
I’m going to plant deadly nightshade
on your grassy mound
and make sure a hemlock tree starts growing there.
Henbane is too good for you,
but I’ll let a bit grow there for good measure
because we want to dance,
we want to sing,
we want to throw this old man
to the wolves,
but they are too beautiful for him, singing in harmony
with each other.
                   So some white wolves and I
will sing on your grave, old man
and dance for the joy of your death.
“Is this an angry statement?”
                            “No, it is a statement of joy.”
“Will the sun shine again?”
                            "Yes,
                            yes,
                            yes,”
                            because I’m going to dance dance dance   
Duncan’s measure, and Pindar’s tune,
Lorca’s cadence, and Creeley’s hum,
Stevens’ sirens and Williams’ little Morris dance,   
oh, the poets will call the tune,
and I will dance, dance, dance
on your grave, grave, grave,
because you’re a sonofabitch, a sonofabitch,   
and you tried to do me in,
but you cant cant cant.
You were a liar in a way that only I know:   
            You ride a broken motorcycle,   
            You speak a dead language
            You are a bad plumber,
            And you write with an inkless pen.   
You were mean to me,
and I’ve survived,
God damn you,
at last I am going to dance on your grave,   
old man,
I’m going to learn every traditional dance,   
every measure,
and dance dance dance on your grave
                                                    one step
for every time
you done me wrong.

Diane Wakoski, “Dancing on the Grave of a Son of a Bitch” from Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962-1987. Copyright © 1988 by Diane Wakoski. Reprinted with the permission of David R. Godine/Black Sparrow Press, www.blacksparrowbooks.com/titles/wakoski.htm.

Source: Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962-1987 (1988)

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Poet Diane Wakoski b. 1937

SCHOOL / PERIOD Beat

Subjects Relationships, Living, Disappointment & Failure, Separation & Divorce, Men & Women

Holidays Valentine's Day

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Diane  Wakoski

Biography

Diane Wakoski, described as an "important and moving poet" by Paul Zweig in the New York Times Book Review, is frequently named among the foremost contemporary American poets by virtue of her experiential vision and her unique voice. Wakoski's poems focus on intensely personal experiences—on her unhappy childhood, on the painful relationships she has had with men and, perhaps most frequently, on the subject of being Diane . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Living, Disappointment & Failure, Separation & Divorce, Men & Women

SCHOOL / PERIOD Beat

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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