My Uncle Will wanted to be on Broadway.
After family dinners, when everyone sat around
drinking coffee, he’d do a little tap dance or shuffle.
Of course it was embarrassing to have a grown man
who worked at the lumberyard dancing after dinner.
On my ninth birthday, I became his reluctant partner.
We wore white shirts, red jackets, and black patent
leather shoes he’d bought at the Salvation Army Thrift Shop
along with paper top hats from the party supply store
and canes made from PVC tubing he’d painted gold.
Our big number was “Putting on the Ritz.”
The other day I looked up in the sky and saw Uncle Will
floating in an aluminum lawn chair. He leaned forward
and grabbed a bit of cloud that was shaped like a woman.
I don’t remember him as a lady’s man so maybe
I invented the woman. She was wearing a tutu
but moved more like a stripper than a ballerina.
Uncle Will was whistling Broadway tunes and talking
to himself about the right expression and inflexion
to impress a casting director at an audition.
Then my aunt, his wife Jane, came into the sky.
She was carrying drinks and a plate of strawberries
and whipped cream, the same as in real life.
Sometimes when we finished, Aunt Jane would look
at Uncle Will, a dark sympathetic look, and she’d say,
“Will, if you worked hard you could still audition.”
The way he looked back at her—even now floating
in the sky—it’s a good thing angel uncles don’t carry guns.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he’d say, too casually.
“I can’t give up the lumberyard.”
I look again and realize my Uncle Will was afraid.
I never knew. When the song ends, we tap the edges
of our paper top hats with our PVC canes and bow
and everyone claps like mad, Jane most of all.
—from Rattle #32, Winter 2009
Read by Tim