We were dancing—it must have
been a foxtrot or a waltz,
something romantic but
requiring restraint,
rise and fall, precise
execution as we moved
into the next song without
stopping, two chests heaving
above a seven-league
stride—such perfect agony,
one learns to smile through,
ecstatic mimicry
being the sine qua non
of American Smooth.
And because I was distracted
by the effort of
keeping my frame
(the leftward lean, head turned
just enough to gaze out
past your ear and always
smiling, smiling),
I didn’t notice
how still you’d become until
we had done it
(for two measures?
four?)—achieved flight,
that swift and serene
magnificence,
before the earth
remembered who we were
and brought us down. 

  • Rita Dove, “American Smooth” from American Smooth. Copyright © 2004 by Rita Dove. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

  • Source: American Smooth (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2004)

Poet Bio

What People are Saying

"I learned that no matter how many times I do it, I will still be nervous when I speak in public. I also learned that it is possible to experience the same poem many times in a row and still feel like I am discovering something new about myself through the words of the writer."
Madeleine Schroeder
2017 OH POL Champion