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A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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Tennis Truce

Only tennis had

my mother’s approval, being clean, white,

and played on clay at a club. Of course,

on hot days we sweated a little, which was

unfortunate—but at least, there was no need

     to get dirty.

All through my childhood we belonged to that club.

Only much later did I wonder, how did we manage that?

At what price? Ah yes—my father’s suits. It was hard

not to hate her then. And yet,

only at that club, on Sunday afternoons, did we have fun

     together.

She taught me to play when I was eight, and I was good.

Tall for my age (my growth spurt started early) I could reach shots

no one expected me to hit.

“Wait ’til you get your growth,” Mother crowed.

But in this as in so much else, I disappointed her, for what

began early refused to stop at all, it seemed. Tall at eight, I was

     gangly at twelve, and at fifteen, a strung-out string bean,

“contrary as always,” my mother said. She also said,

“Enough already!” and “Too much of a good thing,”

and, “Enough is as good as a feast.” The only weapon

     I had against the shame of my excessive height:

     my rage at how she nourished that shame,

               and not me. Against her advice,

I stood tall, even wearing heels. I saw

every movie with Katharine Hepburn, twice.

“Her! Money she’s got, but manners, no.

     All knees and elbows, that one.”

“Lanky,” my father conceded, “but in

               a most appealing way. She moves well.”

His eyes met mine, a secret approval.

To mother my height seemed an

     unfair advantage on the court, but I would not

               let her take that from me.

Awkward in a living room, I felt at home

on clay, where I reached

unlikely shots, making up in intensity for what I lacked in grace.

Once in high school I launched myself

     halfway across the court, into a deep sideways lunge and beyond,

actually landing full-length on my right side, arm out-

     stretched to make the shot—

I ripped my whites, scraping the skin

behind the armpit—

“This is tennis, not baseball,” Mother scolded,

     half-appalled, half-proud. But that point was

game, set, and match, and my picture made the sport page

of the Sacramento Bee: “Linda goes all-out,” said the caption,

and this one Mother pinned to the family clip-board.

“Don’t you think you overdid it slightly?” she’d laugh.

She should talk. No one at our club could beat her. I heard stories

     of how my father used to play; I knew they’d met there at the club,

and that year, reviving some lost memory, he picked up his racquet again.

“Carpe diem,” he said, “as they say.

     Seize the day, or it

               gets away.

I’ll be as low as this depression pretty soon,

     and if I wait until it’s over to have a little fun

     I’ll forget how. Come on, Linda;

     you be line judge for me. Andy, mobilize. Get down there

     by your mother’s baseline.”

So we watched them from the back, from below, all that spring and summer,

     sweating it out, striving for a mastery

     neither would concede.

Late one afternoon when the heat

emptied the courts, they played.

When it was done, when my mother

     slipped one past Dad, he clapped hand to forehead,

head flung back, and laughed aloud, then ran straight at the net,

leapt it, andswooping, lifted her high, whirling her around, laughing still—

     she was looking down at him, hands on his shoulders, and I had never

     seen her face shine so. My amazed eyes met Andy’s

     across the court, and we just stared at each other—was this real?

“Oh, you are magnificent!” he cried, and she,

     batting briefly at his cheek, said, “Oh, you.”

When I went, I took that picture also

     with me. But it was years before I thought,

No wonder they kept that club membership,

     in the depths of the depression. This alone

reminded them of

     how they loved each other.

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