Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
- We see more about the father's roughness in these lines. He "beat" time, which refers to a musical beat here, but still reminds us of physical assault.
- We don't know what the speaker's father did for a living, but we know that Roethke's father owned a greenhouse. So, it makes sense that the speaker in one of his poems would have a father with very dirty palms.
- This father, with battered knuckles and rough palms, seems very physical and tough. Yet he's dancing around the kitchen with his son.
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.
- Our dance is winding down now. The boy is being waltzed off to bed, which makes us think that this whole dance may have just been a trick to get the boy into bed (and a little tuckered out first).
- The boy doesn't seem to want to go to bed, because he's still clinging to his father's shirt.
- Now this image seems sweet, but then we think back to the first stanza, where the speaker said he hung on like death. So, at the end of the poem, both the boy and death still cling to the father.
- Also, if this dance wasn't so easy, and got the boy a little scraped up, the boy must really love his father to want to keep clinging to him.