Savannah, 1969 and A Deafness
I painted my toenails red that summer
for a reason—
hair swept above my skinny shoulders
and skin slick with sweat.
Kneeling next to my Easy-Bake Oven,
we regarded our stash—
pilfered from the bar buffet outside
guarded so carelessly by
hired teenagers in black and white and blemish—
and we popped olives between our teeth,
playing adults before playing house.
Letting brine drip down my lip and chin,
I didn’t need my tongue to taste your salt.
This dinner party gauze:
voices like Spanish moss,
clinging to humid air,
highball glasses tinkling into our ears from open windows.
My ruby toes and bare feet on cool marble at midnight,
discovering every bathroom shut tight and locked—
Could I imagine, then,
what lived behind closed doors—
hitched-up skirts and
lost car keys, Brilliantined hair
muffling lipsticked lies and
two weeks’ paid vacation
slinking around like a prize.
I saw my father’s hand on
the small of a blue sequined back,
but my mother always chose white.
I found myself outside, crouching
in the neighbor’s shrubs for relief
digging my nails into soil like fresh meat—
my blind fingers now midnight explorers
of dirt, of earth, where everything
dies and starts anew.
Let me tell you a secret, she said.
I shrugged my scarf up to my ears,
not bothering to chase her words
as the wind whisked them away.
We raced our matching
red Converse sneakers
over the frosted pavement,
careless of whatever blackened ice
lay just below soles.
But I have something to say, she whispered
as I kicked up dust and pebbles
behind the school, trying to fill
the spaces between her words instead
of carefully fingering them,
like touching pieces of crushed velvet.
My eye was an errant stitch
she could not snag;
my attention—a reluctant, slithering fish
my distractions proved
too sticky for her to wipe away.
Ears brimming with seesawed shrieks
jumbles of verb conjugations
phone chats with a weekend father
were no match for the weakly
knocking fists behind her voice.
Our world had freeze tag in
the sidewalk hedges
ice-creamed faces and
slipshod manicures and
plucky linked elbows—
She tried to show me
the corpse on the stairs
but I had already skipped
past it and out the front door.