Various and Sundry Poetry

what happiness was

I wish I could picture the whole of 176 South Bath Avenue for the two years our family lived there, just a short drive away from the Blue Ridge Mountains. I was seven when we moved there, nine when we left, so it’s not like I don’t remember it, and though I could tell you about the living room with my grandmother’s hand-me-down television that spun out Saturday morning cartoon, that’s not what sticks. There was that backyard where my sister and I sent a tent up once for an overnight sleepover with Bea and Janet from down the street, and where Janet threw up after too much pizza, and there was the playroom upstairs that I had to give up when my brother was born. I could tell you something about the time I stole into the kitchen while my parents were having choir rehearsal and licked off all the chocolate frosting off a cake my father had made for after, and the spanking I got for that. Or the glass cabinet my sister rocked the rocking chair into while we were playing Scrabble, her scalp sliced open and the river of blood running down her forehead, how I screamed louder than she did, the pain etched in my own body just watching her. But it’s the house across the street I remember most vividly, where Zach and Shawn lived, the first black boys I’d ever met, and the afternoons I’d spend there after school, playing basketball in their side yard. The leather of the ball still palpable in my hands, the stark whiteness of my skin against theirs, and this strange new feeling of symmetry as we shuffled down the half-court defending each other, throwing wild shots into the air, laughing at our luck. I had been such a creature of solitude, content to entertain myself with the smallest thing, hunkered down on my knees for hours watching ants and making swirls in the dirt, dreaming of God knows what. I had thought this the greatest pleasure. But no. The conversation between bodies at play. Contact pure and simple. I don’t think I knew what happiness was, until this.