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 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.