My mother’s younger sister in stocking feet, her shoes dangling from one hand, the other hand
easing open the screen door, easing it closed, escapes into the shadows. My mother lies on the bed
staring at a ceiling bright with starlight and longs to risk the two-mile walk to Pickerel Lake.
She imagines the gathering of the Polish Catholics she’s been warned
to avoid. Polacks, her daddy calls them. And though she’s never dared be anything but the good
girl, she will not betray her sister’s Saturday night escape across the barren hills by moonlight
to the forbidden barn where old men unbutton their pressed shirts, lean against the moon- soaked
wood, smoke Lucky Strikes, tap their booted feet, and watch the young girls, her sister among them,
polka until the barn floor will not stop throbbing. Listening to the cottonwoods and what she might
have thought she could hear, my mother must have pictured the boy who escorted her sister back
across the wheat fields, ducking under one fence, over the next, kicking one leg, easing the other,
until they arrived at the border between land and desire, the grand yielding fall of a full summer
moon. She must have imagined her own hand-sewn cotton dress frosted with starlight and the sweet
smell of being young, of being a woman in love with the one night of a South Dakota week belonging
to bodies and music.