All of them are dead now. My father
and mother, bedded together
under their matching stones.
Their married friends, close by.
The crystal and good plates all washed
and put away in other homes,
no party food left over. My job
was to whip the cream for dessert
and ride behind on their fishing weekends
like a seventh wheel,
along with our Airedale who wore
striped socks over his muddy paws
in the house. Spirits accelerated
toward cocktail hour in the red
ranch kitchen where they made
big to-do’s over their drinks—
then feigned concern they might
corrupt me. The men stirred
the air, clustered at the bar, moved
among the women conferring
over the bubbling stew.
My mother, flushed and pretty
as a cornucopia of summer fruit.
That September before college
I joined the happy group
on a fly-fishing river in Montana
and slept on the cottage’s foldout couch.
Late one evening, lights doused,
I was alone with Mother and one
of the men, not quite uncle
not quite friend though I newly
recognized that he was handsome.
I’ve erased whatever he said
that convinced me he’d forgotten
I was there. But there I was, afraid
to breathe, confused to learn
how delicately balanced
these practitioners of marriage must be.
Then they retired to their separate rooms,
though a presence hung in the air
Flenniken, Kathleen. “Married Love” from Post Romantic: Poems. pp. 20-21. © 2020.
Reprinted with permission of the University of Washington Press.