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Shirley Stephenson

It's hard to forget the deer's
ascension, fur and hooves in the air.
The girl's Chevy on the shoulder.
There were back-ups and gapers'
blocks and I knew the ceremony
was out of reach. I changed
in the bathroom of Kentucky
Fried Chicken, unwrapped
the new-fangled pantyhose.
Body Toners. They promised
to fit me in, to raise my lower
half, an offering to myself.

Outside the church, a man
in pinstripes does cabaret kicks
on the lawn. No, he's stepping
over a low fence. You missed
the best part, sweetheart. But here,
have a bubble maker.
Now bound
in matrimony, the couple tumbles
down the steps, tangled Slinkys,
heads bent and bent again
as loved ones throw birdseed.
I try to summon an endearing
thought about the bride or groom,
or the bride and groom together.
Seeing her brother at the reception,
I recall he offered the groom
$5,000 to stop dating his sister.
But that was years ago. At Table 7,
a man from Oconomowoc tries
to wipe away my freckle with his
napkin and finally seated, the Body
Toners reveal their true unyielding
nature. The father of the bride
stands to give a toast and shouts,
Can you believe it? The city
wouldn't allow them to throw rice
because of the damn birds and
I think: this is a myth. This is
Milwaukee. Filet and twice-baked
potatoes for everyone but first
the minister asks us to take a moment
and reflect on love, what role
it plays in our lives. Look deep inside
and see what love means to you.
The meat
brings back the deer, how it didn't
die soon enough. But table 7 seems
so earnest that I close my eyes
with them and find departure.
Pre-dawn sunflowers and his hands
checking the oil, mapping my route.
A sack of almonds, passed through
the window, a mason jar of tea.
I see the long dirt vein of Iowa
and the storm that hit just outside
town, how the wiper dislocated.
A woman lost among cornfields,
a loose bolt. His hands always
empty at the end, always fading.
The minister blesses our food
and the crowd looks very shiny
and content, very full, although
no one has even picked-up a fork.
But I'm still stuck on love, sucked
into it like Body Toners until
the banquet hall folds over us
with the sadness of a closed piano.

Three a.m., birds swollen with rice
explode in the church and it isn't
until sunrise I remember the man
in belted leather outside Kentucky
Fried Chicken. He watched me
enter in jeans, exit in heels and a dress.
The deer went to the road seeking
salt. I was simply running late.
So when he followed me to the car,
$100 bill in hand, I just laughed.
Struck by the smack and skid of want,
there's only so much we can offer.

Shirley Stephenson

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