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.