Francine Witte ~ Plate Spinner

I was prob­a­bly eleven when my father start­ed spin­ning plates. He’d been watch­ing The Ed Sullivan Show and in between Petula Clark and Sergio Franchi, there was a man, all tuxed-up, spin­ning fif­teen plates, five in the air on spindly sticks, five on the table, as he ran back and forth to keep every­thing going at once. The orches­tra, trum­pet-heavy, behind him, the audience’s rip­pled applause.

My father hadn’t been out of his arm­chair, leather and patched, since the acci­dent. The acci­dent being our twelve-year-old neigh­bor, Jimmy, on his ten-speed, knock­ing the brief­case out of my father’s “com­ing home from his crap­py job” hand and hurl­ing him to the ground. My father’s leg break­ing like it was made of cheap chi­na. I always hat­ed Jimmy a lit­tle because of how he told all the kids I had Lemon Pox, which isn’t even a thing, but after the acci­dent, I hat­ed Jimmy even more.

My father sat in that chair for months, even after he healed, even after the doc­tor said he was fine and could walk again and go back to work. Instead of doing either of those, my father seemed to sink even deep­er into his chair.  “This acci­dent,” he said, “was the best thing that ever hap­pened.” My moth­er didn’t agree. She was at work all day at the flower shop. “We’re not gonna starve,” she said, “but a man has got to do.”

Do,” my father scoffed, “I do all day for a punk half my age always telling me call this client, go make a sale.” He shook his tired head.  “Enough,” my father said. “It’s enough.” And that’s when he saw the plate spin­ner. “God,” he said, “if I could only move like that”. The plate spin­ner eased back and forth, twirling the sticks with the plates on top, mak­ing sure this one twirled and then that one. And as soon as they were all in play, he’d set the plates on the table in motion. One lit­tle wrist flick and they were, all of them, turn­ing in the same direc­tion at once.

The next day my father got up out of his chair. When my moth­er said, ”ohh­hh how won­der­ful, now you can get back to work,” he said, “no, this is not work.” He went to our chi­na clos­et and took out five plates, bone white, with tiny lit­tle flow­ers along the edge. He set them up on the din­ing room table. He wasn’t ready yet for the sticks, but he seemed con­vinced he could han­dle the plates on a flat sur­face. Certain he could make them dance.

And he did. My moth­er and I held our breath as the plates, and he, came to life at once. My father was able to find a rhythm in those plates that he had lost every­where else. They seemed to love his touch. My moth­er didn’t seem very con­cerned about the chi­na. “Oh we nev­er use it,” she said. “And if it makes him DO some­thing, I’m glad.”

From then on, every night after din­ner, we were eat­ing togeth­er as a fam­i­ly again, my father would clear every­thing off the table. He’d lay down a linen table­cloth (the linen, he said, kept the plates from slid­ing off.) Then he took the plates out of the chi­na clos­et and set them nice­ly in a row. He looked them over and put his fin­ger under the rim of the first one, then the sec­ond, just as the man on TV had. He moved on his leg, which seemed like it had nev­er been bro­ken, as if he were lead­ing his own line of bal­leri­nas, all tutus and pirou­ettes, and my father wait­ing for the trum­pets to come up, fol­lowed sure­ly by the applause.


Francine Witte is the author of eleven books of poet­ry and flash fic­tion. Her flash fic­tion col­lec­tion RADIO WATER was pub­lished by Roadside Press in January 2024. Her poet­ry col­lec­tion is forth­com­ing from Cervena Barva Press. She is flash fic­tion edi­tor of FLASH BOULEVARD and South Florida Poetry Journal. Visit her web­site at