“Children Dancing in a Ring,” oil on canvas, by Hans Thoma, 1872.

by Tammy Oberhausen

Tuning up, a chord, a riff,
my grandfather plays
Freight Train, finger-thumb picking style,
and we three girls are on our feet. It’s late
fall. The coal fire blazes, burning
deep in my lungs. The guitar rings, and we dance.
The elders, the ones who brought us here, sit smiling at us,
an outer circle around our inner circle of dancers
tearing up the faded roses on the gray linoleum,
dust motes dancing along in shafts of late afternoon
light. Beyond
that wall is a tiny room, accessible from outside only,
the TB room where my great uncle
stayed, decades before I was born.
That is the one room I stood outside of, never
going in or even coming too close.

What would it be like to be there, outside
the family and yet so near, a mere wall between you,
a divide so thin you can hear their talk and laughter and
rebukes, the beat and shuffle of your brother’s guitar?
You know that old tune, but nobody
can hear you sing along. They would have to listen
too hard, believe there was something
to hear. You are outside that outer
circle watching us,
the living, dance.


Tammy Oberhausen is a teacher in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and a graduate of the Spalding University MFA program.