Trapped in Plain Sight


His eyes are fixed ahead. His scraggled beard,
Flecked salt and pepper, hides a shaking jaw.
Locked fingers clench the armrests on each side,
But tremble with a rapid, awkward sway
That cannot rest. His daughter is the bride.
The dancing couples glide past where he sits,
A wheelchair disregarded by the door.
His hearing aid, again, is set too low
Or else turned off. But he can hear a tune
They played at his own wedding years ago.
Beneath his frozen shell, the music stirs
A pulsing, liquid fire, though only felt
Or heard within his secret inner ear.

Perhaps his strange affliction — frozen moves
And secret fire — is shared by many here
Whose laughter fills the room. Although they twirl
With grace across the floor, they hold inside
What most they feel, the things they most would say,
And yield up to a frozen, safe routine
Of works and ties that trap them in plain sight
And make them not who they were meant to be.

The evening medication takes its hold.
His fingers start to bend. He licks his lips.
He turns his neck, which makes a cracking noise
Each time he moves. Some twenty minutes pass,
And then he shocks the revelers to watch.
He bounces from his chair and with a grin,
Completely unselfconscious, joins the dance,
Clasps hands with those on either side of him,
And leads the circle in a whirling hora.
This minor miracle draws dumb-struck smiles
And holds a sign for those who watch amazed.
Oh, gathering of whatever gods may be,
Help me, indeed help all of us, break free.

Bruce McBirney lives in La Crescenta, California. His poems have appeared in America, Spillway, The Formalist, The Lyric, and Sonnets: 150 Contemporary Sonnets, among others.

First published in Measure, Volume 2 (2007)