The Contortionist

One day she was scratching her back

with her own left foot and somebody

commented. That was the start of it.

The spandex and spangles followed,

the boyfriends who amazed themselves

against her pliancy. And always

the show-stopping smile, the sense

that someone should be filming this,

the sense that when she righted herself

and walked out of the bedroom or the circus tent

she was just like you or me—a little bit happy,

a little bit used. It became a game.

Was there an angle or a shape

she wouldn't attempt? As far as she was

concerned, the Kama Sutra

might as well be the hokeypokey.

But the men were never her match.

They were just counterweight

and fumbling—an inability to endure

the pleasures that bloomed around her

like black-eyed Susans on a summer hillside,

undiminished by the local flower arranger

who takes his pick each morning.

Charles Rafferty's eleventh collection of poems is The Smoke of Horses (forthcoming from BOA Editions). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, O, Oprah Magazine, and Prairie Schooner, and are forthcoming in Ploughshares. His stories have appeared in The Southern Review and Per Contra, and his story collection is called Saturday Night at Magellan's. Currently, he directs the MFA program at Albertus Magnus College.