Too Close, 1994

1994 Too close poem

You did not ask for this dance;

you demanded it.  I owed it to you.

I offered to place my left hand on your shoulder

and my right hand in your left, formally—

but you quickly pressed me to yourself, all the way down

so everyone would finally know we’re a couple

not just a prom date.

I flinched, instinctively pulling back

but your arms held me tight

like an insect trapped in a spider’s web.

My left arm is awkwardly crushed

against your lapel.  My right hand is squeezed

near your armpit.  At least I cannot see your face

though I hear you singing along with the music.  I vow

to despise this Celine Dion song for the rest of my life.

You do not even bother to change the words to suit us:

so you are my lady, and I am your man?

There is no “us” anyway, not after this one song.

I know, four months together is forever in high school.

I know, you’re a great catch, a super nice guy.

I know, you’ve been patient with me.

Tonight since we’re in front of our peers

I’m your trophy.

This night started out badly—after you picked me up

we went to your buddy’s house for photos

and you suddenly laid your hands all over me.

I know my smile looked fake—I saw his parents hesitate

before snapping the picture, sensing my shock.

But I can’t run screaming from you

not on this important night.

So I hid out in the bathroom

once we arrived, and when you asked with irritation

“Is everything okay?”  I knew I’d taken too long.

On the phone you spoke gently

when you said you’d wait

until I was ready for your touch.

Tonight I have no say.

I can’t hide anything from you now.

You can feel it all—my racing heart,

my chest, my fat stomach, my hip bones

everything I’ve carefully covered before.

At least I can tilt my hips back a bit so I can’t feel—

Are you kidding me?  Two slow songs back-to-back?

An old one by Elvis—another song to hate forevermore.

Five more endless minutes of this crippling dance.

Hot tears spring up, but I hold them back

because I refuse to be a fool

in front of everyone.

I watch other couples dancing, enjoying each other

but when a few girls look back at me with concern

I realize my tears glisten in the darkness.

I drop my eyes to focus to your boutonniere

which I bought in resignation

for the night of our first kiss

but nothing more.

I swear to myself:

If this is how men really are

pretending they’re nice

but putting on a show at my expense

I’m done for good.

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