American Life in Poetry: The Dancer

Remember those Degas paintings of the ballet dancers? Here is a similar figure study, in muted color, but in this instance made of words, not pigment. As this poem by David Tucker closes, I can feel myself holding my breath as if to help the dancer hold her position.

The Dancer

Class is over, the teacher

and the pianist gone,

but one dancer

in a pale blue

leotard stays

to practice alone without music,

turning grand jetés

through the haze of late afternoon.

Her eyes are focused

on the balancing point

no one else sees

as she spins in this quiet

made of mirrors and light –

a blue rose on a nail –

then stops and lifts

her arms in an oval pause

and leans out

a little more, a little more,

there, in slow motion

upon the air.

Reprinted from the 2005 Bakeless Prize winner 'Late for Work,' by David Tucker, Houghton Mifflin, 2006, by permission of the author. 'The Dancer' first appeared in 'Visions International,' No. 65, 2001. Copyright 2001 by David Tucker. This column is supported by the Poetry Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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