Clubfoot

By Rachel Wetzsteon 1967–2009 Rachel Wetzsteon
Meanwhile, meanwhile used to be my limp’s
accompaniment. Meanwhile (as my legs
maneuvered an abyss), a ballet is
beginning, and the dancer’s perfect feet
propel her downstage, where applause is waiting.
Meanwhile a sad man stomps his gloom away
by stomping evenly: one two, one two
means never blue, his motto goes. But I
was born to other paces, different measures;
the roads I take are undulant and lined
with fluid hedges, trees that take a dive
whenever I am near; a bird’s ascent
slows down to an eternal crawl; and when
a doctor’s order takes me to the city
it is a jagged gotham, full of spires
that waver in the sky like falling knives
or silver metronomes. Meanwhile, meanwhile
(the rhythm steadied me) a lover steals
upon his mistress with the quietness
that only flatfeet know. So quietly
that he might just as well have stayed at home,
I add when my self-confidence is at
a high point, and the view is at its best.
And sometimes I have thoughts, before the surge
of meanwhile drowns them out, that limping is
a thing I’d voluntarily take up
if I were just as upright as the rest:
I see myself, erect, stampeding through
a garden’s sturdy, stale geometry
and nearly knocked down by the urge to say
incline, I like your style; ravine, hello;
how many good things share your curvature;
it is the slant of rainfall when the wind
convinces it to drift; it is a sight
that those with level heads and steady feet
miss out on. In a coracle (my new
enthusiasm leads to stories), you
are better, bent; the more you tilt, the more
the water welcomes you, its addled waves
a live reminder of your being there,
its leaping fish a sign that you are still
alert and in command. The clubfoots have
a myth concerning Orpheus’ head,
and though I doubt its authenticity
I like the way it goes: hacked off, the head
was rolling down the river, when a change
came over it—it bobbed, it jumped, it shuddered,
it caught itself in weeds, but struggled free
because of all its energy, and then
its eyes began to come to life, as if
a pretty tune enthralled it even then.
Meanwhile his killers marched away, saying
he had his ups and downs. Of course, of course
to hobble is to hinder: sick is sick,
no matter how you change the second term
to suit your needs. But sometimes I am sure
that when I limp along a crooked street,
my dancing shadow is a model for
the stiffs who hurry past without a sound,
showing them this way, that way, as they reach
the little level huts they call home.

Rachel Wetzsteon, “Clubfoot” from Home and Away, published by Penguin Books, Inc. Copyright © 1998 by Rachel Wetzsteon. Reprinted by permission of Sonja Wetzsteon.

Source: Home and Away (Penguin Books, 1998)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Rachel Wetzsteon 1967–2009

Subjects Living, The Body, Mythology & Folklore, Greek & Roman Mythology

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Rachel  Wetzsteon

Biography

Born in Manhattan, poet and editor Rachel Wetzsteon received degrees from Yale University, Johns Hopkins University, and Columbia University. She made her home in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, which is the setting for many of her formally assured poems. Influenced by Charles Baudelaire, Soren Kierkegaard, and Philip Larkin, Wetzsteon infused her urban and emotional landscapes with a dry wit. As critic Adam . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, The Body, Mythology & Folklore, Greek & Roman Mythology

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.