circles—the swirling cuff of my father's pant leg, the layered hem of
my mother's skirt. A neighbor lady polkas by, the one who yells so loud
at her kids every night when she walks to the barn that we can hear
her across the still fields. She has a delicious smile on her face tonight,
and the creamy half moon of her slip shows under her long, tight dress.
The dance hall is an octagon, eight sides squaring off in subtle shades
to a circle. The Ray Schmidt Orchestra is on the bandstand, a family
of musicians. The two young daughters wear patent leather shoes, chiffon
dresses and white tights as they patter away at the drums and bass.
Their mother, her lips a wild smear of red, stomps and claws chords
on the jangled, dusty upright.
The father and the son take turns playing the accordion, the bellowing
wheeze of notes, the squeeze, the oom-paa-paa. Years later, this son
will become minorly famous—wildly famous in this county—when he makes
it onto the Lawrence Welk show. He'll be groomed as the new accordion
maestro, the heir apparent to Lawrence Welk, a North Dakotan who grew
up thirty miles from here. This is polka country. The accordion is our
most soulful, ancestral instrument.
Someone is getting married, a cousin? Who knows. Everyone is a cousin
in this town. I have a new dress with a flared skirt and a matching
ribbon; I get to stay up late. This has been going on for hours and
promises to go on for more. Old ladies in shawls, looking like everyone's
Grandma, sit around the edges of the dance hall, smiling with sad eyes
at the children.
A man who looks like everyone's Grandpa makes the rounds with a tray
of shot glasses, spinning gold pools of wedding whiskey. The recipe
is one cup burnt sugar, one cup Everclear, one cup warm water. The old
man bends low with the tray—three sips for everybody, no matter how
small. Sweet burning warmth down my throat, sweet, swirling dizziness.
This is Hochzeit, the wedding celebration.
Someone lifts me up. An uncle, an older cousin? I have no idea. He dances
me around the circle in the air, my short legs dangling beneath me,
then returns me to my seat. The old women are there to receive me. They
laugh and pat my shoulders, straighten my skirt.
The music speeds up, the accordion pumping chords like a steam engine.
My father clasps my mother's hand and pulls her tight. The dance floor
flexes and heaves like a trampoline. Women swing by in the arms of their
partners. High whoops and yips emit from their ample bosoms. They kick
their big, heavy legs and throw back their bouffants. The building sweats,
the accordion breathes.
My father secures his arm around my mother's waist. They spin and reel
as they polka circles around the room. If left to itself, gravity could
take over, centrifugal force could spin them out, away from each other.
My mother smiles behind her cateye glasses, confident of her partner.
They hold tight, their young, slim bodies enjoying the thrill of almost
spinning out while being held in. My parents. Everyone says they are
the best dancers on the floor.
Marquart is the poetry editor of Flyway
Literary Review and the coordinator of the Creative Writing Program
at Iowa State University. Ms. Marquart's work has appeared in journals
such as North American Review, Three Penny Review, New Letters, River
City, Zone 3, Cumberland Poetry Review, Kalliope, Southern Poetry Review,
Marquart's books include Everything's
a Verb: Poems (New Rivers Press, 1995), The
Hunger Bone: Rock & Roll Stories (New Rivers Press, 2001), and
a second poetry collection, From
Sweetness (Pearl Editions, 2002). A collaborating member of The
Bone People, a jazz-poetry, rhythm & blues project, Marquart has
released two CDs: Orange Parade (acoustic rock) and A Regular
Dervish (spoken word, jazz-poetry).