David Bottoms • Walking the Floor over You

The last time we played the VFW,
one woman near the bandstand wanted nothing by honky tonk—
something to swing her hips, to twirl
her skirt, to kick up the heels of her red nylon boot—
and the one number we knew by Ernest Tubb
had just the right thump, just the right bop,
though one time through wasn’t nearly enough.

So over and over, a little faster, a little louder,
punching it up here, laying back there,
her deep-fried curls going purple and orange and green
in the dusty rainbow of the disco ball, her bony hips
like a metronome in a denim skirt, bumping, gliding, twirling
from gimpy vet to gimpy vet
until you’d think she’d screw a heel right into the floor.

Look, think of the girl who never turned up at proms,
who never had a candid in the yearbook
or hopped a sock ragged in the high school gym.
Now fast forward thirty years, past the cotton mill
and the mill closing, the lonely Philco crooning
over the pie rack of the Acworth bus station,
the broken nails and beauty college, the ax-blade
headaches from the polish and dye.

Then on a night when nothing better is likely to happen,
a beat throbs out just the right line,
and a bounce wakes up in the toe of a boot,
and everything in the reeling light sparkles—
which is why sometimes at a VFW
you play the same tattered tune over and over,
until the need to dance drains out
of a woman like suds from a beer tap,
and the street-corner cowboy she’s leaning on
steers her out onto the sooty deck
where a hard-boiled moon tangled in power lines
looks something like hope warmed over.

David Bottoms most recent book is Waltzing through the Endtime, from Copper Canyon Press.