would fill a stadium. At least, that's what my nephew thinks:
Tia, you don't even know what a penalty is. Stolid on little boy
legs, arms out-spread, he guards the goal post??a hassock
and kitchen stool set three feet apart??his uniform Mexico's colors,
green, red, white.
Clothed in baggy kneed tights, tie-dyed tee-shirt, pink curlers,
and wariness, I defend the other end, flanked by two chairs.
He dodges across the room, urging the ball forward. I block,
dislodge it from his instep, sideswipe and send it weaving
drunkenly between the chairs. GOOOOOOAL! Hey. I scored!
Yeah. It's mine. That's my goal, tia. One-zero.
I toss him the ball from the sideline. He blocks it with his knee,
teases it across the linoleum, easing it into the end zone.
It skids by me. GOOOOOOAL! He raises his hands above his head,
spreads his fingers into vees. Two-zero. Yay! Hooray!
Gosh, you're terrible, tia. He's right. My incompetence boggles.
What I don't know about soccer would fuel legends.
What I do know are the mornings tasting of wind,
sand, and crushed spring grass slippery underfoot,
the itch of sun-dried mud on bare flesh,
sweat-stung eyes, the vain jabs at an elusive ball
caught in a thicket of legs, the throb of a bruised shin, of defeat.
I also know that moment when the field spreads out before you,
lonely as a blank page and the ball squirms free.
You're dribbling. Ball bonds with foot. Heart-thump matches
foot-fall, and you're tugged goal-ward as if by a force outside your self.
You pass, receive and pass again in a pattern as fluid as speech,
with a symmetry all its own.
No. I will not tell him. Some things cannot be taught.
I only hope he grows to meet that instant, startling as a slap,
when your body rises skyward, and the ball jolts
against your forehead with a thud, with the urgency of inspiration—
Athena springing full-blown from Zeus's head,
the moment when header becomes poem.
From Shiny Objects (2002). This poem first appeared in The Comstock Review (Spring/Summer 2002, Vol. 16, #1).
Used here with the author’s permission.