Spring Dance

by Brenda Levy Tate
criticalpoet.com
Second Place, April 2008
Judged by Patricia Smith


Route 22 ripples to an axle beat as the red pickup approaches.
Puddles pulse, wheels veer, water arcs like a tide
parting before the F-150’s tire hiss. Beer cans snicker
beneath ice-wire-wink.

Sleet coats cables, gone by noon. Pavement’s a mosaic –
broken headlights, embedded pennies. Mouse bones crunch
under Goodyear studs.

First tractor out of the yard wallows with a pulmonary
wheeze in muck stubble. Field’s black, twisted
as abandoned shirts. An old collie three-legs it
down the chain track because that’s what he was born to do.

In a heifer-gnawed grove behind the loafing shed,
deer scrabble snow crust under bare oaks;
limbs scratch cloudskins. Mated robins drop
sky bits onto dull moss. New melt trinkles
and plishes off the gambrel-roof barn.

On the porch step, farmboy smooths his trout filament
between forefinger and thumb, feeds it into the Shakespeare
with a handful of hope.

The day flows around him — river and rock –while mother
sings from her clothesline, “Fare thee well, love,”
hazel gaze a salamandrine fire that burns what it touches.

He listens, furrows deep as plowed dirt
above his eyes; matches reel spin to wash-pulley creak.

Milkroom radio chatters about foreclosures, lost soldiers
and protests against a mine two counties away. Fishhook
snags the little fellow’s thumb.

Long driveway rasps its monotone; gravel shoulders shrug
still-frozen clods into ditches. Muddy Ford swerves,
bumps over brushcut lawn, halts beside a lattice arbor
where rambling roses will soon explode like ruptured hearts.

Woman-song stops. She turns – sliced lemon smile –
carries her laundry basket, sets it down carefully.
Then she straightens to confront the truck, but won’t glance
at her son. Not even once.

Out on bleeding earth, her husband inhales the dark
diesel, whistles off-key. “This will be no ordinary April,”
he assures his crippled dog.


Densely atmospheric story of earthly and personal rebirth; I was particularly drawn to the poet's daring, the deft creation of pinpoint phrasing that conjured EXACTLY the image needed. Snickering beer cans. Ice-wire-wink. The collie actually "three-legs it." And plishes. That is not, NOT in the dictionary, and it friggin' well should be. This is like the wide, opening cinematic shot, a huge story in a nutshell, and the last line resonated in a hopeful but chilling way. Geez. --Patricia Smith

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