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Photo of Tania Rochelle and baby by Aretha White. All rights reserved.
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Women in White
When Layne, who had a “partner” and a butch haircut, said
I was the yang-est person she knew, I assumed
she meant I had the body of a teenager,
a youthful spirit, so my sudden smugness
compelled her to spell the word.
Worse, though, than the malaprop,
I knew it was true, that the shag-carpeted
rooms of my adolescence had always been
furnished with a mild murmuring cushion
of girls I had crushes on.
Of course, I've discussed this with Josie,
the resident expert (MSW, working toward PhD)
on all things deviant, and she's agreed:
When a kid is meddled with sexually, boundaries
blur, accounting too for the long list of guys—
but I digress. My husband knows my secrets.
“Nice rack to the left,” I say at the music festival,
and he trips over his own weak knees.
Nevertheless, four blissful children
sleep in my House of Compliance,
in a mostly Democratic neighborhood,
where blacks and whites and Hispanics,
and gays, and the differently-abled, and even Republicans
are none the wiser, smile, wave above their lawn
mowers, grill chicken.
Scoff if you want; we each make choices.
And all the finger-wagging or tax discrimination in the world,
Pride marches in scorching August,
the compulsory rainbow bumper stickers
would NEVER have been this hard:
I haven't slept in fourteen years, not since
the first-born, with her bottomless blue eyes
and her tongue like broken glass. But here I live—
with her and the others, four small planets
in an alternate universe,
where mothers mustn't thrill at the sight
of other women wearing white
halters—and with a man whose loud mouth
and sharp angles aren't much to rest on,
but point the way clear to home.
A skinny Marilyn analogue
in gold lame, dropped bodice
skimming breasts small
as apricots, she's the only dancer
who hasn't been enhanced;
maybe the oldest, with a body
like mine before babies
pushed out, reset my margins
and my job prospects.
Possibility is what I'm
talking about, not a desire
to take off my clothes in public.
During the divorce
my attorney warned, No
beer, bars, boyfriends,
And once I'd won custody,
You can line the men up —
just don't move 'em in.
No gradations, then,
between urge and marriage.
Their father treats my children
like mismatched socks,
wears them when his drawer
is empty. Yet they can't
call my lover “Dad,”
who steadies the bike,
ties the shoes.
My lover likes that they adore him,
but he's as nervous as a groom.
You think I'm not scared?
I'm getting old: too old to strip,
to be a movie star, to love
I could pick up the flute
I haven't touched since high school,
play scales like running water,
but never snap back
the tone or nimbleness
to sit in the orchestra.
Tonight, at The Show-n-Tail,
the music is simple: three chords
repeated like the pattern
of a child's noodle necklace,
the jewelry of little girls
at their father's for the weekend.
And I sit at the bar
drinking beer with my boyfriend
when Marilyn spills her hair
into my lap, slides
her head up my body, says, Sweetheart,
you're going to help me
make some money.
Why I Still Cry at Weddings
I'd like to tell you it's because
I sense the priest is a pedophile,
or know the pianist beats
his wife because she stutters.
I want to say the church is too hot,
that the depiction of an angel
holding John the Baptist's head
like she's about to drop-kick it
scares me; that I'm whoozy
from the godawful heat
and the blood oozing from the lamb
in stained glass. I'd mention
bad dresses snatched from the backs
of closets, safe mauves, and pantyhose.
I could claim memories
of my own failed marriage, like tiny
glass shards in my fingertips, still hurt
when I press down, though I only
glimpse them in a certain light;
claim I've forgotten what it was like
to look at him the way
this bride is looking at this groom,
the way her father looks at her
mother, swept into the vortex
that is past and future all at once,
a shuffle of snapshots—first grade,
the goofy kid at the birthday party,
prom. But it's because her gown
says This is the ball,
and midnight is a long way off;
and because I'm in love again,
which is akin to believing
in my own immortality:
so much hope in one room.