Small Talk

We are projections on a sheet in the yard,
suspicious spools of film liberated from metal cans.
When there is nothing left to play, the children retreat
to flashlight tag, and the women refresh their wine.

The men huddle in the darkness.
Someone is talking about the circus,
and a boy on stilts who used to shout insults at the crowd.
Your mama’s so short, she needs a ladder to pick up a dime.

The landscape is a mishmash of competing conversations
against a backdrop of cricket chirps.
A chalk-spot of moon hovers overhead.
The men join the women, and the story of how each couple met
becomes fodder for laughs and intrigue.

The new couple who just moved in say they met at the gym
in a nearby state—her just out of college.
What he doesn’t say is that he worked there
and had signed her up with her then husband—
a complimentary personal training session
that ended badly or well, depending on your perspective.

Desire is a stack of chips pushed into the middle of the poker table, all in.
Another one, he interjects. Your mama’s so short, she poses for trophies.
The men laugh. The women look at each other and smile.
The origin story was rehearsed, and tomorrow’s verdict
will be that it was fine. Such stories carry a short middle and end,
deliberate answers for deliberate actions.

A child emerges with a frog in her hand.
Can we keep it? she asks. Absolutely not, her mother says.
Polite laughter, then the girl runs back to the other children.

We have reached a crossroads, nay, a threshold.
Someone has walked into the wind chimes near the back door:
hollow bamboo and aluminum with no cadence.
I think someone has had too much to drink, someone says,
and more laughter.

The new couple stand as one shadow, and she says
it’s time to go, something about stopping at the dry cleaners
on the way to work in the morning.

The soundtrack in her head plays, You’re a fraud.
She smiles. You matter. You’re a good man, she says,
then switches over to another station.

This poem appeared in The Write Launch, July 2020.

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