My Papa's Waltz

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

by Theodore Roethke

Other poems of ROETHKE (35)

Comments (32)

This poem is not about abuse. It is about a child sharing rare moment of closeness/affection with a hard-working father. The author himself shared this many times.
At every step you missed could mean the mistakes or regrets in the father's life. Hence the transfer of anger to the buckle symbolically. But like all good poetry, the reader brings their own experience to the poem, and it could be interpreted several ways. If that is Theodore Roethke's comment below, it seems he was beaten.
FOOTBALL'S COMING HOME
I get the feeling that this poeam is portraying that ITS COMING HOME
I'm not sure I'm alive either
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