Kodak: Carnival at Veterans’ Park, Ann Arbor, May 1961
by Cheryl Caesar

The ballerina lights
on her partner’s shoulder.
A butterfly. Her arms lift
like the flexing of wings.

Despite the pose and the tutu,
my father and I are nothing like that.

My two-year-old arms lift
like a saguaro with fists.
My father grips my thigh
to his shoulder.

My face is screwed up
like a fist — laughing, I believe.
His is clenched against his smoke,
turned away so as not to scorch my skirts.
But he might have been smiling too.

I think he was proud
to offer this treat to his family,
although I never really cared
for forced vertigo. This shoulder perch
was better than any Ferris wheel
or Tilt-a-Whirl.

All I ever wanted to ask of him
was to give up the cigarettes.
I never could. It seemed as though
they were all that he had.

Within a few years I would disappear
from family pictures, insufficiently
photogenic. My mother would play
ballerina for the lens. But I’m thankful
to have this snapshot. Look closely.
Lend me your eyes.
Wouldn’t you say we were happy?

ART: Cele Carnival by Yaacov Agam.

caesar drawing
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem came out of a writing workshop in which we created poems from a photograph. I also made the above sketch of the photo, in compressed charcoal. The poem and sketch were published in Poetic Sun (October 2021).

Caesar 2

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cheryl Caesar is an ex-expatriate who for 25 years lived in Paris, Tuscany, and Sligo (Republic of Ireland). She earned her doctorate in comparative literature at the Sorbonne, and now teaches writing at Michigan State University. Her chapbook Flatman: Poems of Protest in the Trump Era is available from Amazon, although she hopes it will soon be of historical interest only. You can find her poems and artwork in Words Across the Water, published by Fractal Edge Press. She enjoys poetry, painting and drawing, and speculating about nonhuman consciousness. Visit her at caesarc.msu.domains and on Facebook.

Author photo by The Poetry Room.