Those evenings when they dressed for an affair,
my parents were most beautiful, my father stiff,
so sensitive to the strip of silk around his throat
that he barely moved, except to hold the door
for my mother, and my mother’s neck a naked
thing above her gown, the bow that rustled
when she stood, like a satin orchid planted near
her skin. Her shoes were thin, sharp knives,
making a sound I knew as fancy, click-clack
click-clack across the black and white foyer.
They pinched her toes, she said, which was her way
of telling me that loveliness should hurt. Even
before she left, her hair loosened from its bun,
as though something in her wanted to escape.
I rarely heard them coming home after the waltz
and gin, ungloved, unfastened from the car,
his hand resting on the small secret of her back,
her zipper finally splitting at the teeth. But I
imagined them speaking French or Polish at a party,
holding the words so long inside their mouths
that language felt like infidelity, made me look
away. Each morning my mother’s velvet purse
wilted on a chair, empty of its midnight contents:
ruby lipstick, tiny lake of a pocket mirror.
My father’s black tie lay crumpled on the bed.
The romance of objects—both their costumes
on hangers again, still clasping the scent
of two bodies that bent, unbent inside of them.
Original appearance in Prairie Schooner.
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