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Making Out at the Movies

After Frank O’Hara

There was always gum involved,

back row under the projector.

Sometimes I wanted to, sometimes

I didn’t but let it happen anyway because

once you agreed, those were the rules.

Sometimes I “went to the bathroom”

and put a coin in the Pac-Man machine

in the lobby instead, that dark,

confetti-print carpet smelling of stale butter,

the concession stand cashiers outside for a smoke

or leaning conspiratorially against

the counter, facing somewhere else,

I didn’t care, away from me.

The boy had been brought up in church.

I hadn’t, but that didn’t save me

feeling shame all the time.

I was so absorbent. I remember

the smell of his saliva around my lips, scraps

of dialogue from whatever B-movie

we’d bought tickets to

because it would be mostly empty

and was playing at the right time.

God was everywhere but with me,

and I was superstitious.

Kids of America, let yourself go to good movies!

There are things you can absorb

without meaning to, like that protagonists

are mostly white, or that you can tell sincerity

by its sound, or that there are whole genres

where the woman evaporates

during the good parts, or that people usually know

what they want. After,

it was always a relief to emerge

from the over-airconditioned building

to thaw in the steamy Florida night, frogs

and insects setting up an electric throb

from the retention pond between the theater

and the strip mall. I could go home, then,

having played my part convincingly,

my face in the dark: screen, projector, dust.


MARGARET RAY grew up in Gainesville, Florida. She is the author of Superstitions of the Mid-Atlantic (2021, selected by Jericho Brown for the 2020 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship Prize). A winner of the Third Coast Poetry Prize, and runner-up for both the James Hearst Poetry Prize (North American Review) and the december Poetry Prize, she has also been nominated for Best New Poets. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Threepenny Review, Narrative, The Gettysburg Review, Poet Lore, Gulf Coast, Michigan Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and teaches in New Jersey.


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