Strange how it looks now,
playing house and playing married.
it was always young, earnest men
whose hands were open in the American style
and who moved
in their bodies
like their bodies were on loan.
Then you, with your solid torso and thighs,
your breasts hardly there,
clipping your hair
over the sink —
you erased them entirely.
You were so present
in the house and in my arms —
I felt lucky, which felt new —
but then I realized you weren’t playing house
and you weren’t playing married.
It was our house. We were married.
Gradually, I learned how a place is set,
the expected positions
of a spoon, a fork,
and how the diners sit and converse.
Across the table
I could see you more clearly:
you sucked cracked chicken bones,
talked with spinach stuck to your teeth.
You were a person with a body, and flaws,
and sometimes you were unkind,
as was I. And worse,
you loved me,
and had always seen these things.
Summer in a small town: American
flags dot the square,
couples and sticky children
strolling from booth to booth
at the annual fair
where elephant ears,
thick with sodden powdered sugar,
slowly collapse in paper baskets.
I had a sweetheart
but she was secret
and, being secret,
the way something you love is more
when someone else wants it
kicked in the face.
As far as I know, this account
is accurate. The Confederate flags
snapped. The old women
quilted in the patterns
their grandmothers had taught them
Certain movements and gestures
had no place and so
When someone asked
about my sweetheart,
I denied her.
I denied everything,
though just that morning
I had awakened in my bed
and smiled at the ceiling, happy —
the smear of her lipstick
still on my thigh —
when would that happen again?
And summer returned the next year;
someone sang a lyric
from an old country song
and someone else
finished the verse.
Rebecca Hazelton is the author of Vow (Cleveland State University Press), Fair Copy (Ohio State University Press), and the forthcoming Gloss from the Wisconsin Poetry Series. Her poems have been published in The New Yorker, Poetry, and Best American Poetry.