The Rules: Runner Up, Sandy Crimmins Poetry Prize

I don’t believe in girlhood. I don’t believe

we are ever small, or ever don’t know what it is

we shouldn’t know. I don’t believe thick minutes in July

crept any closer to the ground than on the tennis court

at Hidden Creek Country Club, where sky-browned Tony

with eyebrows bleached bright from the sun, strapped me

at the end of our lesson into an elastic harness

anchored by the chain link fence, net running across the court

like a hard spine, my sisters on the other side, and

Eyebrows on his knees, adult arms around me, taking as long as he wanted

to snap the clasps in place. He’d back up, yell

Serve! to Meggie or Neena and I ran to them,

slapped backward by its quick yank

at my waist and home later, Meggie, four years younger

so I guess she was seven, says Courtney, Tony has a cwush on you—said it

in that lisp of hers we laughed about

two days ago watching home footage, our mother behind the camera

laughing too, our mother like a shapely soda bottle

with lipstick at the rim, our mother who played Patsy Cline so often

that there Meggie was, singing Cway-thee, eyes nuclear

and luminous, never breaking contact with the camera. We do nothing now

but sing it like she did then. Play it in the morning

on our way to summer jobs at the Club, where she flips burgers

by the pool and I bring beer around to golfers

wearing left-handed gloves that hide their wedding rings.

Every time I pass the cabana, Meggie’s bent over the counter texting

her boyfriend in a boxy uniform she calls unsexy

as hell, thank God, and every time I leave her it’s to bend into

the cart to find a Modelo for Mr. Richards who likes

my little shorts, he says, who likes sunflower seeds, spitting

them diagonally between sentences, who calls me best

in the business, says, we were all talkin ‘bout you today, ‘bout how

you know the rules so well, meaning I’m quiet, unlike

Barbara, who wears khaki pants and drives her cart

like a demon banshee in heat, plowin’ right up there when we’re teein’ off,

and between the 12th and 13th hole I drive the path

along that tennis court where even at eleven I was barely

there, my ribcage the circumference of a Folgers coffee tin

and Tony was lifting my shirt to put his hand

on the harness’ angry red marks, asking if it hurt, and no,

I’d say, it feels like nothing, it felt like nothing at all.


pa is from Virginia and holds an MFA from Columbia University. Her poetry has received awards and distinctions from Best New Poets, Poets & Writers Magazine, Rattle, The Atlantic, North American Review, and elsewhere.