Waiting to Waltz: A Childhood Poem


Poems by Cynthia Rylant

In Waiting to Waltz, Rylant shares poems of her time growing up in Beaver, West Virginia. In some ways, this collection of poems about reads like a memoir and a series of snapshots from throughout her formative years. We learn through this collection that Rylant grew up in a single parent household since her father left when she was four years old, and died when she was in her early teens. Rylant’s mother was a nurse so worked a lot and couldn’t be overly involved in he life, and sometimes Rylant had to do things other children might not have had to, like get her own lunch.

Some of Rylant’s memoirs are more nostalgic, like “Wax Lips” when she remembers the candy, and others are more sentimental like “Little Short Legs” when she tells when her mother accidentally hit and killed a dog while driving. Others are just poignant memories, as in “The Brain Surgeon” when she remembers a handsome drunk. I liked seeing this side of her because the romanticism in which she views the world, even destitute drunkard, is part of her signature style. Rylant convinces herself this he is a “tragic figure”, and  “in fact, he was a Brain Surgeon whose wife had died their honeymoon night. ”

I made a strong connection between the poem “The Great Beyond” and another one of Rylant’s works, Missing May. In the poem, Rylant describes a type she nearly drowned in a friends pool because she could scarcely swim: “And no one ever knew, Not even Karen, How close I’d come to the great beyond.”  Although “no one ever knew” about this happening to Rylant herself, it seems that she transferred the experience to one her character Cletus in Missing May who describes his own near death experience and almost crossing over to the outside side.

I liked Rylant’s articulation of time when growing up when you feel like you are waiting for things to start happening to you, for your life to really begin – “waiting to Waltz.” Growing up is one of those things  you look forward to for so long while you are little, and the suddenly you find yourself as an adult and are not sure how time as past so quickly.


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