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American Life in Poetry
by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2004-2006

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 jetes
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 weekly column is supported by the Poetry Foundation, the Library of Congress and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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