To claim, or: Set afire

A “Waltz” poem

Inspired by the iambic trimeter of ‘My Papa’s Waltz’ by Theodore Roethke

I've Russian relatives
who dance to Putin's hype,
minds strained through grotesque sieves
'til nothing's left but tripe.

The music they step to
flows out through State channels;
for them, his version's 'True' -
straight from Kremlin annals.

They're made to feel proud heirs
of a once great empire;
thus Kyiv should be theirs
to claim or set afire.

The despot bids them dance,
keeps masses distracted;
he has them in his trance,
charmed by lies refracted.

In fantasies, they're dressed
in simple Russian garb...
When they think of the West,
they repeat Putin's barbs.


Title: Russian Dancers;
Artist: Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917)
Date: 1899; via

For this week’s #TankaTuesday ekphrastic prompt, Selma and Colleen selected the above painting. It’s a Degas; and you can read more about it HERE. Poets are encouraged to write poems using the above image as an inspiration. 

Don’t just describe what you see in the image. Think about metaphor and allegory.

Let’s write poetry together!

When it comes to partnership, some humans can make their lives alone – it’s possible. But creatively, it’s more like painting: you can’t just use the same colours in every painting. It’s just not an option. You can’t take the same photograph every time and live with art forms with no differences.

Ben Harper (b. 1969)

Would you like to create poetry with me and have a completed poem of yours featured here at the Skeptic’s Kaddish? I am very excited to have launched the ‘Poetry Partners’ initiative and am looking forward to meeting and creating with you… Check it out!

71 thoughts on “To claim, or: Set afire”

  1. How soon people have forgotten the hate of WWII…
    I have relatives who hail from trouble historic lands, but all was lost back then when war took possesions and only some life escaped…
    One can only hope that reality seeps in somewhere and the truth allows for overruling horrid leaders (everywhere).

  2. Powerful poem, David. Manipulating people into believing lies is an effective means of control. Somehow people lose their ability to think critically and believe in facts. So clear in the US too as our own Putin almost turned our democracy into a dictatorship (and we aren’t done yet). I do believe that a portion of the Russian populace is waking up, but I’m not sure it will be enough. I hope so.

  3. Sadly every word in your poem is palpable and true David. My heart like yours and so many grieves for our world and it’s shortcomings as we continue to not only send aid but love and healing to light the path to Ukraine and all places of destruction but to those that are in this delusionary state. Such a well done piece and i love Selma and Colleen’s picture. 💖🌻🙏

  4. Iconic Ukrainian landmarks from Russian times do not seem to be immune to Putin’s destruction. Putin’s love does not extend to telling the truth to his fellow Russians. He does not seem to notice their economic suffering. If Ukrainians are his long-lost kin, he shows them no love or respect. I feel very sad for everyone within the reach of this cruel dictator!
    Such a poignant and powerful poem, David! Hoping for better days ahead!

  5. Would be funny if it were not so terribly true. I read a story about a young adult in the Ukraine breaking all contact with her Father in Russia (divorced and remarried) when he tried to tell her there was no war against the Ukrainian people – he was telling her that as the sirens wailed and she had to rush to a bomb shelter: this is her own flesh and blood saying that.

    It made me think of what I was like when I attended my church – shutting out those who loved me most deeply and hurting myself and others in doing so. The depths of my husband’s love and mercy for me through that experience of separating myself from all that was stealing, killing and destroying me and others: powerful. Oh may we be given that love and mercy too: which requires us to speak the truth in love, over and over again and be deeply hurt through the process and sometimes it requires a separation to bring about the needed understanding and restoration. May we be given such deep discernment in each case. In my case I too had to cut out all people from that church and community to love them in truth and grace – and myself also.

      1. Legalism. Hard to explain unless you’ve walked through it yourself or your loved ones have. I was perpetually chained to trying to “save” myself and others – rather than receiving myself and others in love and grace. Kind of like what you were talking about in commandments vs utterances. Believe that you could do something to have God turn His back on you and believe that about others and you live in constant fear. In fear, we don’t “see” or “love” each other: we respond to instinctual fears and anxieties and live in “let’s fix this” modus. Can you imagine how that can destroy people?

          1. I attended that church from 2015 (a year after my Mum died) till mid-2017. Cut all contact with the final person I knew from there two years ago. I now see that it was a helpful (but excruciating) process to shed lies I had ingested as a little girl, beginning to deep down know that shedding didn’t make me unloving, unforgiving and evil, but loving, forgiving and pure. When all those around you think one way, you can begin to think you must be the “crazy” one: which is what they thought of me, or some thought I was possessed by an evil spirit that needed expelling. The struggle they saw me walk through – that debilitating fear – came because of what they were feeding me and affirming in me (lies). As soon as I left this incredible heaviness lifted. I knew then already that it was the right thing to do – even if it took me several more years not to feel unloving and unforgiving for cutting them out of my life. It’s like abused women going back to their abuser. I did that – went back to the spiritual abuse: both trying to “save” them and myself. Until I could finally let them go completely.

          2. Wow Anna, your words penetrate deeply and your story is so moving and wise. i applaud you for the work and courage it took to remove people from your life that were toxic to create a space for you that you so deserve. We all do 💖!

          3. Oh Cindy, no. They themselves weren’t and aren’t toxic. It’s the lies that they are clinging to that are. They are beautiful, beautiful souls: full of light and love. I watched confident and gentle women so precious to me – and myself also – transform into terrified and harsh women – who judged and condemned others in accordance with the same judgment and condemnation we were ourselves experiencing.

          4. Hi Anna,
            I love this and that makes total sense!
            “It’s the lies that they are clinging to that are. They are beautiful, beautiful souls: full of light and love.” So true of all people even when masked being the devil themselves. 💖

          5. What you replied so makes me think of what Jesus said to his beloved disciple Peter: “Get behind me, Satan.” when Peter lashed out to “save” Jesus, cutting off the soldier’s ear. Oh my actions have been devilish too at times – like Peter needed, I have needed humbling, again and again, to see what I am doing and to shed that anger (& control) born in fear to love others freely – giving them the same freedom I have been given to learn and grow, by falling down and getting back up again.

          6. What a beautiful passage and share Anna! I think we’ve all been where you’re talking about which I think is quite natural when we get in states of despair. It’s important to recognize it so we don’t become trapped by disillusionment. All of these times are calling us to stand up and yet not place blame, but rather stand our ground much like the Dalai Lama when betrayal has been a common occurrence. Maybe we continue to shed more light and love than hate so we may all live in peace. I appreciate your honest and admirable sharing💕🙏🌻

          7. Yes, it is important to recognize it, to stand up and yet not place blame. Thank you for your sweet encouragement and taking the time to listen to my heart. You are definitely one who shines that light of love upon others.

          8. You are soooo right and it’s a pleasure. I’m grateful to connect with you. Awww that is so dear of you, thanks for noticing! 💖💖🌻🙏

  6. It’s almost similar situation in our country also. And I feel, in most countries of the world. Where even though the media may not be tightly controlled, but the social media is playing havoc.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s