"My Papa's Waltz" is an interesting poem because it can be read in two distinct ways. On the surface, it appears that it is a lighthearted poem about a young boy dancing innocently with his father who has just returned from a night of drinking. There is a distinct meter and rhyme scheme, so it even sounds like a playful yet spirited dance that the two are doing.
However, on closer inspection, the poem takes a darker turn. In the first stanza, the boy is described as holding on "like death" and describes the waltzing as "not easy." In the second stanza, the reader finds that the dancing gets so rough that the pans are sliding off the kitchen shelves, and the third stanza uses words like "battered," "scraped," and "buckle": definitely not words connotative of a fun lighthearted dance in the kitchen. Finally, the fourth stanza solidifies the idea of abuse with phrases such as "beat time on my head" and "waltzed me off to bed still clinging to your shirt."
The poem deals with the consistency and pattern of abuse, and the word choice reinforces that theme.