Oompah-pah: A Portrait
If you grew up in the upper Midwest, in a place like Wisconsin, chances are you've encountered a polka or two, which means you've also been witness to the music of a polka band. You may even have danced a polka. Or two. Even yours truly, in his youth, has put the imprint of two left feet on the dance floor. The floor, I'm told, survived. His partner's feet? Mmm, not so much.
The poet Ted Kooser, Poet Laureate of the U.S. from 2004-2006, encountered a poem called "Lip," written by the Mill's own Karla Huston and which he's published on his website, American Life in Poetry. The website is a project in which newspapers can subscribe to publish a poem weekly, at no cost. You may read Karla's poem, a portrait of her father, here. Resist, if you can, these lines about a beloved father and his tuba: ". . . it’s polka polka, big oom-pas, little dancing girls / on the tips of the valves while he worked his embouchure / into the proper purse of his lips. . . ."
Despite what happened to her father, she, and now we, can still hear those oompah-pahs.
Karla Huston is one of the founders of The Mill: A Place for Writers, and a teacher and board member there as well. She is the former Poet Laureate of Wisconsin in 2017 and 2018.