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Self-Portrait Playing Tennis

Self-Portrait Playing Tennis

When we play tennis, my lover says I look happy.

I never stop chasing balls. Enthusiastic and bumbling

as a dog, I watch his high serve, and I swing,

and it’s a strike again. The ball bounces off the fence.

It’s good we’re fenced in. Another couple hits

the ball long and low, on and on. There’s not much

to say about that kind of tennis. In the Girl Scouts,

I ate goldfish crackers at the Country Club

and learned to serve. Later, in high school,

my friends and I looped through the drive

and honked the horn long and loud, on and on.

There’s not much to say about reverse snobbery,

but it’s fun to annoy the rich. You shake hands

with the racket. But what do Southern girls know

about shaking hands? I moved west, and taught

my son not to squeeze if a girl is wearing rings.

The social hug, too, I learned on my own—

the little pat, only shoulders touching. Before,

I knew just two kinds—mother-daughter,

or full-body, the way I hug my lover. I didn’t hold

a girl’s hand until I was 22. Fingers laced together,

we clomped down the street in tall boots, both

in love with the same man, and oh, her hand

was soft and small, and she was hard to hate

after that. Here on the court, I shake hands

with the racket, line my fingers up, serve

and return—overhand, underhand, forehand,

backhand—why all the slapping and deception?

Never mind keeping score—we’re doing well

just to get the ball across the net. The origin

of love is l’oeuf, the egg, or l’heure, the hour,

or iets voor lof doen, for praise instead of money.

No matter what, it’s love to love at first, when—

my lover  says—we send in our representatives.

It’s easy to be on your best behavior when nothing

can hurt you. Who cares if he drinks a six-pack

every night and sleeps past noon? Who cares

if his gums bleed? It’s not like you’re going

to marry him. It’s fun to write the word love, loopy,

the way we feel at the beginning, but this is not

the beginning anymore, not even close. My lover

knows my fear of death, my distaste for proverbs.

He puts on the accent of my father, an old

New York Jew he never met, and tells my son

buy low, sell high, Scotty, and the awful one

about the cow. He knows how the word serendipity

reminds me of the sad festival in the park,

never serendipitous, always my mother and me

alone at the art booth where my small thumb

was inked, its print doodled into a cat or a mouse.

This, though, this tennis match in the spring sun,

 is what it should have meant.

Posted 03/19/16
Originally published in Southern Humanities Review, Vol 49 No 2
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