At fifteen I wanted so much
to swan onto the court
in pristine whites – a top with
tasteful scalloping around the chest,
a flirty razor-pleated skirt
from under which would peek-a-boo
frilled white lace panties, shoes
proper shock-absorbing leather
and socks that didn’t reach
above the neck of the shoe, except for
a bouncy little pom-pom.
In this get-up an illusion of competence
would be complete and predict
the surgical precision with which a player
might deploy that instrument of competition,
the professional-grade tennis racket.
At fifteen, however, I was
very much the ugly duckling
waddling onto courts in my
drab adolescent plumage
of badly-fitted black and white checkered shorts,
an electric lime-green Banlon top,
thickly folded ankle socks and
cheap canvas sneakers from the local Woolworth’s.
I did have a top-of-the-line tennis racket
with expensive gut strings, and always
the best new Spalding balls that reminded me
of freshly formed snow-balls. And yet,
in this outfit I looked like what I really was,
an awkward, poorly accessorized Eastside girl.
I lacked that certain polish which would put
an opponent on notice that here was
a player who might prevail,
until I made my first service.
GM, April 4, 2005