Regrets Only

The circus tent is an invader on the suburban lawn,

soft as a meringue, lined in steel,

but the acrobatics have hardly begun.

The graduate takes the tightrope,

with a "Thanks for coming"

and a smile that is rouge and practice.

And a foreign girl perches on the rigid lawn chair.

She's come to see the show

and no one she knows.

She could imitate the language, but

surely her accent would give her away.

She can't catch the smiles of the other girls.

That would require looking down the

throat of the lion with clenched, smiling teeth

that is every small, innocuous cruelty

of the tribal, territorial teenage girls.

It would be social contortionism at its finest,

to bend and to break her way

into their circle, their ring of fire.

But she is no acrobat.

Her shoulders are inflexible

as metal bars, and they stick to the

boning of the lawn chair

in the heat, so she only sits.

Only sits and watches her

mother swallowing fire so she

can spit agreeable small talk

and feels rather nauseous.

She hasn't her mother's

sense of balance.

Where she should step softly,

she stomps with the weight

of an elephant,

only to feel the coals sear

the soles of her feet.

Another misstep.

Another social fau-paux.

Another tumble from the tightrope.

The others turn away discreetly in their little circles.

They cannot bear to watch.

When she finally leaves the metal cage of the gaudy graduation-turned-circus tent to the applause of the thunder outside, she thinks,

This, this is what we're celebrating. This, this is what I'm leaving behind.