Vol. 1, No. 3: Slobberknockers & Buttonhooks

Vol. 1, No. 3: Slobberknockers & Buttonhooks photo

Vol. 1, No. 3: Slobberknockers & Buttonhooks

tickets taken & purses checked; here we go. the stadium is packed with bloodied players, band nerds, wild mascots, and furious fans. and if you look beyond the lights, the towering goalposts, to the darkness looking back: tombstones, final girls, ghosts, and giants. even a dinosaur or two. there's more to this game than a helmet and ball, more players than those out on the field, more than just heartache in this world. there's humor and pride as well, closeness and desire, deep nostalgia and endless forward motion.

 

edited by brooke kolcow & k.c. mead-brewer

Vol. 1, No. 3: Slobberknockers & Buttonhooks

Thanking the LinemenJosh Lefkowitz

When Barry Sanders rushed for over two thousand yards, he bought each of his offensive linemen a $60,000 Rolex. Warren Moon used to take his linemen to Hawaii. Tom Brady has purchased his many linemen a variety of gifts, including an Audi Q7 SUV one year, and another time, a pair of Ugg boots. (“Dear Giselle,” I imagine one of the linemen writing in his thank-you note, “thank you for the lovely pair of Uggs…”). It’s a tradition – or rather, an idea – I fully support: that the glory may fall to the flashy, speedy running back who zigs and zags into the end zone, or the handsome quarterback with well-coiffed hair, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the sacrifice of five burly linemen throwing their enormous bodies against the blitzes of opposing defenders. I, having recently turned forty, took a look around at my life and realized I was happy. I didn’t want to jinx the damn thing – I knew there was still grief and struggle to come – but I was feeling a certain sense of accomplishment; if you’ll allow me, I felt I had reached the end zone and wanted to celebrate. Moreover, I wanted to acknowledge the linemen who had helped me achieve this moment, and take them out for a fancy meal. But who were the linemen? Who had sacrificed themselves so that I could make it to here? My first thought, as it often is, was Jackie, my long-time partner of many years. But of course, Jackie herself was the end zone – by which I mean my life with Jackie had been the goal all along. So it was my past relationships, really, who I needed to thank. But I didn’t like the idea of arranging a big thank you dinner with all of my previous girlfriends; just planning the seating arrangements was enough to give me a headache. My parents, of course, were likely candidates: they had birthed me into this world, swaddled me as a baby, even turned my infant head regularly while sleeping to create “such a round, smooth cranium” as Jackie liked to say. Plus they’d provided food and shelter, and bought me clothes from The Gap. And yet, if I’m being honest, it was much more complicated than that. Sure, in a number of situations my parents were the O-Line, but in other moments they – or rather, their influence, or beliefs – were the D-Line, and the very obstacles I needed to dodge or avoid or outrun. To that end, my therapist seemed due for a lineman-like gift. I could treat him to a steak dinner – but hadn’t my years’ worth of weekly checks paid for several steak dinners already? Ultimately, I realized there were too many people to thank; practically every person who had crossed my life’s path had helped in some way. The guy who got me high for the first time, then drove us to 7-11 and let me loose inside; my California Aunt; my high school acting teacher; that girl from summer camp who’d whispered “you’re great”; on and on the list went. All of these people had helped me, and yet I wondered, had I ever truly been a lineman for another? I was thinking about all this in line, as it were, at CVS, waiting for the cashier to finish with his customer, when another cashier at a counter further down opened up and called out “Next” and the woman behind me in line began to dash over to him. “Excuse me,” I said, then paused and added, “y’know what, that’s okay – I’m not in a rush,” and so allowed the woman to jump in front of me. A scrum of a play, maybe half-a-yard pickup at best, but no fumbles and no injuries meant it wasn’t the worst outcome; at the very least, there’d be another chance to move the chains.

As I Grew Up Surrounded by James Wright’s Suicidally-Beautiful Football PlayersDarren C. Demaree

We all lose 
the treasure
as we lose sight

of what stands out
as treasure
in the flat places

of Ohio, where
Wright had us
all watching

the old men
as they watched
the young men

& those rafted
dreams we all held
or dropped

dramatically on
& off the field,
our knees refusing

each generation’s
request. It wasn’t
even much

of a cheer. I didn’t 
know, we would all
so deeply consider

suicide by the time
we were forty.
Good lord, only

the silence cared
enough to follow us.
Our bodies, they

became bodies.

BlackstrapAndrea Krause

The steaming carafe drinks down the scant kitchen 
light. Persistent, the bold sheen of dark roast slips 
through, glossy as molasses, but splashing much thinner. 
My body craves this bitter dose like sunshine hydration. 
It reminds me of when our high school cross-country 
coach invited each girl into his office to ask, 
awkwardly, if we were still getting our period—
he was the kind of person who cared about our long-term 
bone density with true sincerity. So when he suggested we sip 
blackstrap molasses, in viscous ritual, for extra iron, 
one acrid spoonful per day, I trusted him down to my blood 
chemistry. I asked Mom if she could buy me some,
but she was adamant I already ate too much sugar. So 
I did what any 16-year-old girl who was concerned about 
her hemoglobin would do—I procured my own. I didn't have 
a big cash flow, but I could spare $2.50 for a hammer 
to flood my blood with nails. Tucked behind my dresser, 
a sticky brown paper bag and tablespoon, serving up 
my daily gagging. I'll never forget the day I came home 
from school and Mom had cleaned my room. The bag 
was gone. We've never spoken of it. As an adult, 
I was diagnosed with an iron deficiency. I probably
need to go see a psychologist.

Thank God photo

image: Adam Cooper and Mat Barton

Mafia DaughterCaelyn Cobb

I’m only home for thirty-four minutes when I learn the Bills have a new hype song. My mom plays it for me on the way home from the airport; she follows the team on Instagram. Let’s go! Buf-fa-lo! Mafia! I never could get the energy to figure out exactly where that nickname came from, but I suppose I get it. Whenever I meet someone from the area who says their favorite team is the Patriots or the Broncos, I want to grab them by the back of the neck and tell them they broke my heart, and I don’t even like football.

That weekend we all stay up until almost one in the morning to see our team play. It’s not enough for the Bills to just beat Kansas City; we all root for them to absolutely crush them, as repayment for knocking them out in the final playoff game last year, the team’s first since I was five years old. “It’ll give them so much confidence,” my mom says. Everyone nods in agreement. Aside from six points for a touchdown and one for the kick after, I know pretty much nothing about football, but I watch the whole game. It’s just the done thing. Bills games were my background for homework marathons, for hangovers, for my mom’s chili bubbling on the stove, waiting to be stirred occasionally. At the neurologist, I learn, they asked my grandfather to name his opportunities for joy. The first thing he said was the Buffalo Bills.

“Your family is like something out of Buffalo ‘66,” my Bronx-born boyfriend tells me, with the clinical skepticism of someone whose local sports team has been globally recognized for winning his entire life. He doesn’t understand that we’re duty-bound to support them, through all the near misses and bad seasons and glorious, giddy, unexpected wins. We’re all they’ve got. You’re born into a Bills family and that’s it, for life: you’re a fan.

In college, my professor made us all watch the Superbowl as part of an assignment to understand collective effervescence. All over the country, people just like us had their TVs on, cheering or yelling or basking in the frenzy from all the cheering and yelling. Ever since, I’ve made a point to watch it if I can, for those very reasons--it’s nice to be a part of something, even if I have no idea what’s going on. But in 2020, well. I watched to wish humiliating defeat on the Kansas City Chiefs. My friend Deedi, fellow upstate transplant, Mafia wife, posted a photo of her living room letterboard. Superbowl LIV: Who Knows vs. Who Cares. We cared, though. In the final few minutes, with Tom Brady handing the Chiefs their ass with his last half-braincell, I sent her a text: it’s the karma they deserve for what they did. A whole year later, my mother can describe in great detail the looks on the Bills players’ faces as the stadium filled with confetti celebrating Kansas City going to the championship game. 

It’s probably for the best that they didn’t go all the way that year. I remember breathlessly watching the Cubs in the final game of the 2016 World Series, cheers echoing from all the units around mine, everyone coming together to will them to that long-awaited W. They showed everyone outside Wrigley Field losing it when they announced the win; I felt myself tearing up and I only lived in Chicago for a couple of years a decade ago. One week later, Trump won the presidential election. I wondered if maybe we all threw the universe’s victory vibes into the wrong direction. If the collective blood-deep Bills energy got revved up, what rough beast would we accidentally unleash? We might end up with the Democrats’ climate agenda permanently scuttled, or a battle in the Taiwan Strait.

“I’m going to send you a Bills shirt,” my mom jokes after the Bills finally beat Kansas City, as we’re taking off our makeup to get ready for bed. Every Sunday, I see the shirts on all my feeds: on friends, on family, on babies, on dogs. All of ‘em ready to hit the mattresses. If she follows through, and one shows up on my doorstep, though, I’ll wear it. For a split second, I’ll think: I’ll probably be dead before the sea levels get too high, anyway, so. I’ll send my yearning out into the world and cheer along. I’m nothing if not a good Mafia daughter.

Shivering in VirginiaParker Young

On a Saturday night somewhere in Virginia, in the middle of the game against the fourth-ranked Orange Team University, Maroon Team University’s quarterback, no. 8, begins visibly shivering — afterwards, some will say it was a seizure, others will say a panic attack, and still others will take the medical staff’s official post-game explanation at face value: he was cold — and on the next play, from shotgun formation, he misses the snap. The snap isn’t bad. He just misses it, probably due to his shivering plus whatever else is happening to his psyche. The ball grazes his left shoulder pad. A horror is unfolding, a horror which has nothing to do with football, by the way, and the football grazes his shoulder pad, fluttering awkwardly to the turf, while no. 8 shivers and lets the horror unfold. The football field is like a cemetery and he really is cold. The ball is loose, but he can’t remember how to behave or what the ball signifies when it’s on the ground, on the grass of the cemetery, and this is what disturbs us, the viewers, most. We will never be certain what we do is right. No. 8 can’t remember what to do, he can’t remember why he’s shivering, and worst of all, he can’t recall a single detail of his life up to this point, which concerns him, because it means he could be anyone. And anyone else could be him. After the play (fumble recovered by Orange at the Red 25), it takes a heroic mental effort for him to walk off the field, onto the sideline with his teammates. He shivers. Nobody touches him. On the field, all the tombstones are lining up. Not a single person joins him on the sideline; nobody wants to talk. No medical staff, no coaching staff, no teammates. He shivers and sinks into his shoes.

Thirty minutes later, one of the student trainers walks with no. 8 through the tunnel, into the locker room, where for some reason the lights are off. They can’t find the light switch. The trainer stumbles around in the dark, muttering, looking for the light switch. The trainer curses and turns on his phone’s flashlight to scan the walls. No. 8 has two thoughts at once. I’m dying. No I’m not. Did someone move the fucking light switch? says the trainer. It used to be right here.

Let’s watch the play again. Before the snap, the slot receiver and the boundary receiver each eye one another for an extended period of time. Then, at the moment the ball is snapped, they make the exact same move off the line, an ineffectual double jab step and spin which can’t be anything close to what the coaches drew up. Don’t we all live in the same world? And aren’t we all becoming more like one another with each passing day (although we must pretend to embody the opposite effect)? In summary, something mysterious happens to the slot receiver and the boundary receiver, they accidentally mirror one another, and meanwhile no. 8, the quarterback, is lost and seeing tombstones. He needs somebody to mirror. That may be the root of the problem. The game is over at this point. Orange is up 21 with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. Angry fans begin to leave. Days later, when no. 8 announces his retirement from football, many of the same fans are overwhelmed by a sense of cosmic well-being which is difficult to explain.

Poem For The Last Of The Straight-Toe KickersAvery Gregurich

everybody called him dirt because the david spade movie
had come out a few years before and became available to
rent at the gas station in time for junior high football. dirt talked
like him some, but he wasn’t really trying to. if you smacked
your biceps and flexed, you could get him to mess up the lines
he had picked up from being recited at. even the coaches called
him dirt, but i didn’t, mostly because i was supposed to act like
the captain. dirt kicked field goals and extra points, neither of
which we tried for very often. they had held dirt up in elementary
indefinitely, to the point that before kickoff he would get off the
bus in the morning and smoke his grandma’s cigarettes with the
bus driver. one time dirt snuck off mid-quarter to snag a hot dog
from the cheer moms. he always kept his wallet in his girdle. another
time he faced the crowd and pissed behind the bench, trying to hide
the act with his helmet. it was an away game. having many older
brothers, he was the first to melt his skin with a hot pocket knife and
show us in the locker room. now i can’t remember his name, but i can
see dirt lined up after practice between the hash marks, kicking against
the wind and asking all the older kids for a ride home, a place no one
wanted to see. when my dad called and said that he showed up to his
church and got baptized, even he called him dirt. i was just glad to hear
that he was out there, still kicking.

Human Contact photo

image: Adam Cooper and Mat Barton

My Ex was a Division II Linebacker & After All This Time, I Still Don’t Know What that MeansMeghan Phillips

Here’s what I do know: he was from the part of Virginia that no one likes to think about. The part where uncles have stills in their basements & lortab in their pockets. Where daddies go into the mines everyday, their boys a growth-spurt away from those same dark holes. He drove a humvee in Kosovo when I was driving my dad’s Mystique to first period choir practice. He sold plasma & drugs & smoked synthetics so he wouldn’t piss hot. If you Google him, the only thing that comes up is the review of Metallica’s St. Anger he wrote for his college newspaper. His sister had a heeler that kept jumping out of the car, trying to herd the cattle stuck on those green hills like magnets. His dad had another family. He had 80 pounds on me, a full foot on me. He said he loved me like he was afraid someone would hear. Once, he held my ankles on his lap like they were the gentle skulls of baby birds. Once, he held my throat in an attic room off the Prinsengracht, pressed my face into a pillow that smelled like someone else’s hair. Once, he held my hand for two and half blocks but decided it was too hard to go along side-by-side like that. Once, he held a football, I guess—he held back the line. Kept that line from going anywhere. He stopped things with his hands, with the hard meat of his body. Laid other men flat with the jam of his shoulder, pressed their faces into hot plastic turf. I don’t know. He stopped things with his hands & people went fucking wild for it.

The Final Girl Joins the Cheerleading SquadMeghan Phillips

What safer place is there, really, than under those sodium lights, glowing bright in the warm eye of the crowd, flanked on all sides by girls yelling go, yelling fight, yelling get 'em get 'em get 'em. Get him.

Coming in ClutchDivyasri Krishnan

transcript of salvaged coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final

They call her the Pocket Rocket, the Nutmeg Queen. Look at how she flies! Exploding into the space, making mincemeat out of the Matildas. She’s hungry for the ball, John. You bet she is. Keeps her head up, makes the pass to Rapinoe. They call her Leggy Jane, Booty Judy. Do they? I can see why. What glutes. Look how she gets her foot under the ball, cross-field pass to Press. Sexy, just sexy. Who says women’s soccer is boring, eh, gents? That’s right. Keep your eye on how she plays with those defenders, my God. Here’s to hoping she doesn’t bat for the other team. Right on, John. Seems like the whole team’s lesbian at this point. You think there’s something in the water? Don’t care, Rick, I just like watching them. Ooh, bad connection, and the ball’s changed possession. She came too far out of position there, scrambling to get back, look at those legs pump. Pity she barely breaks 5’2. And Sauerkraut makes the tackle, and it’s good! Sauerkraut? Sauerbrunn. Oh, yes. Close enough. I hear she’s pushing forty. You think she might retire? Well, it’d be smart— End it while you’re on top, you mean? Can’t play good soccer when you’re going through menopause. And our young star’s back on top, receiving a truly excellent punt from A.D Franch—was she offsides there? I think so, but no whistle. That’s quite a lot of ground she’s got to cover, only thirty seconds left of extra time, folks. You think she can make it? I respect the effort, but even Kante couldn’t make that. Curves don’t translate into speed, I’m afraid... my God. John. John, are you seeing this? She’s eating up that field, really eating it up, Jesus, are her legs growing? They are, they’ve gotta be four, no, six feet alone now. Like tentacles, oh my god, you getting this? Zoom in! No, out now, a little bit, more—she’s filling up the frame? Folks, she’s touching either side of the field now, she’s raking her fingers through the stands, the ball’s gone, she’s tearing up the turf, she’s going past the goal— Rick? Rick, get back, she’s headed for us... My God, it’s coming right at us, it’s not stopping, somebody stop it, somebody—!

Run the LineChloe N. Clark

All the football players Glory knows are dead but they’ll still show up for games. Her brother was the running back of the high school team and when the school bus bringing them home from an away game, two years before, hit a spot of black ice, the bus swerved and slid and lost control and the team must have shouted and then there was nothing. It must have been so cold in the water. She thinks about this more than she should, though less than she could.

Glory doesn’t really know much about the sport, though she always watched her brother’s games and still does. They called him Lightning Luke. He was so fast, so graceful that he could spin and swerve around the opposing team’s players as if they weren’t even there. If the bus had been Luke, then everyone would have survived.

His best friend was the quarterback, Tom. Tom was tall and off the field spoke so quietly that people had trouble hearing them. But Luke always heard him, would repeat what he said just a little louder so everyone could hear. He’d say, “oh, Tom, that’s an interesting point about how Hester acts like the ghost and the whole town is haunted,” and everyone in class would nod and understand that Tom had said something deep and thoughtful and Luke was just the conduit. Glory thinks they must have been sitting next to each other on the bus. That was something, even if it wasn’t much.

On Homecoming, everyone at the school knows the team will come back. It’s tradition. They don’t miss games, especially not big ones. The school hasn’t had to have tryouts in the years since the bus accident. Glory never gets to talk to her brother on game days, no one does. But, the other teams’ players still taunt them, try to get them to mess up. They’re never too cruel, though, they never bring up that all the boys are dead, will never come back, will never get hot cocoa after the game, never kiss someone just because they won. Instead, they say, you suck, your mama could play better.

Glory is now the same age as her older brother. It is the math of tragedies. He used to call her kiddo, would throw Beanie Babies at her when she wasn’t looking, would take her on drives with him at night to get ice cream. He’d say, “one day all of this will be yours” and point at the handmedown car from their parents.

On the night of the big game, she goes early to get a bleacher seat nearest to the field. She sits next to Cassie, the girlfriend of one of the defensive linemen. She hasn’t dated anyone since, says maybe when she’s in college because here it was like he was still around. The weather is sharp and cool, but not yet cold enough to shiver. Except when the team enters the field and the air temp always drops for a moment, and Glory can see her breath.

When she was little, she liked building snow forts and hiding inside them. She’d watch her breath melt the edges. Luke would peek in the doorway and throw cookies at her, pieces of candy, he’d ask her how her Arctic mission was going.

When the team enters the field, they look out at the stands, but never make eye contact with anyone. Glory is not sure if they do it on purpose or if it’s something else, if they are kept from it by some rule of the dead. She wonders if they see everybody, the whole town practically, bundled in warm coats, and ready to cheer for their team.

The game stretches through the night. Every touchdown is traded off with the opposing team. The crowd leans forward as one, every single body tensed. They are ready for victory.

A week or two before the accident, they drove for ice cream and Luke talked about college. He said, “do you think I’ll have to play football there, too?” Glory had been surprised hearing him, she’d always thought he’d loved the game. Lightning Luke. “You don’t have to do anything, I don’t think,” she’d said. She had imagined a life spinning out for her brother, maybe he’d be an artist or a cook or an engineer. Maybe he’d fly to space, or dive into the ocean to look for endangered octopuses. He’d smiled at her, “maybe I won’t, then.” As if it was as easy as that since she’d said it. As if he’d never had such a thought before.

On the field, Luke is running with the ball. He is dodging and dancing around the opposition. Glory wants to shout that he can drop it if he wants. But she never yells. She sometimes sits out in the cold until ice forms on her eyelashes. But she never yells.

It’s a touchdown and the crowd goes wild. They chant his name. Lightning Luke. Lightning Luke. He was seventeen. They’d all always be seventeen. Always be football uniforms and nicknames. Glory wants to explore the world for him, to eat every dish and touch every tree. She wants to come home every year and wait until the game where he looks at the crowd and sees her.

Lightning Luke. Lightning. Luke. She chants it, too. It might as well be a prayer.

Green photo

image: Jack Buck

On Breaking The Jaw of the Starting Quarterback of Minnesota’s Richest High School While Playing on a Torn Meniscus the night of September 11th, 2009Scott Gannis

If you knew mom would die broke and blind in a foreclosed home five minutes from where your athletic career peaked, you might not have gone Division One regardless, but you would’ve hit that blonde, pampered, BMW-driving motherfucker even harder.

WatersportsAlyson Mosquera Dutemple

At the wedding, Baker couldn’t forget a tawdry detail he’d learned about the happy couple, a secret whispered by a gutter-minded second cousin: that the groom had a thing for jet-skis and on his last birthday, the bride had arranged to have sex astride one.

Baker wasn’t a pervert, but the story obsessed him throughout the service. If it was true, why choose a beach wedding like this one? Whenever a jet-ski zipped past, did the groom feel suddenly amorous? Did the bride remember some soreness, a pulled muscle from the complicated mechanics of consummating on such a machine?

During the buffet, Baker had such a nervous stomach that he couldn’t eat. When the dancing started, his spirits were too heavy for merrymaking. His mother shimmied up to him en route to the limbo pole. “Come on, Bakie!” she sang, jumping out of line to grab his lapels. His father, holding her place, jiggled a pair of giant maracas.

Baker kept his rear glued to his seat. He tried to recall how, exactly, the groom was related to him. He fretted about whether the jet-ski thing could be inherited. Recently, his parents had taken to reminding him that soon enough, he, too, might find someone nice to “settle down with.” Such euphemisms mortified Baker, as if coupling were completely disconnected from that terrible talk about biology his parents had once given him. Only their version of events had involved winged things, birds and bees, with no mention at all of watersports. Still, it was bad enough, and just thinking about it made Baker’s belly cramp all over again. The DJ changed records, and in the crowd, his parents threw up their hands, but Baker turned away. He would not watch them get down.

The Candy Striper Pockets a Note Found Under an Empty Hospital Bed and Brings It Home to Read LaterAlyson Mosquera Dutemple

Child, once I pushed you on a wobbly bike while you labored to find balance. Later, I let go. As you moved away, the bike no longer pedaled itself. It hurt that day you learned to ride. I had tendonitis. I massaged my palm as you circled the block. Each time you disappeared from view, my hand closed around a pressure point, clutching, as if of its own volition.

Red photo

image: Jack Buck

UnderdogsEllen Rhudy

I could be excited about ball bearings. I had a passion for processing orders, I had a zeal for running reports on the ball bearings, the gaskets, all the minor elements required for the efficient workings of the machineries of Philadelphia. Yes, I had missed office life—stale donuts, unwashed coffee pots—while in the Peace Corps, and would like to spend forty hours a week in this still-industrial pocket of Callowhill.

Despite this, the interview was not going well. First there was a man about my age, who watched as I completed a paper application containing the same information I had emailed him the week before. On his interview form he checked a box that read “Did not bring pen.”

“How much did you earn in the Peace Corps?” he asked.

I explained that as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I didn’t earn a salary. I was serving my country! “But,” I said, “I had a stipend of two hundred dollars a month.”

He introduced the company’s owner: a middle-aged man, thinning brown hair in a rakish ponytail, sunglasses. After sitting, he lifted the Ray-Bans to reveal two black eyes. “Racquetball,” he explained, and lowered his glasses. He, too, was intrigued by my Peace Corps salary/lack of salary. “Has the salary structure been explained to you?” he asked.

“It was posted as thirty thousand…”

“It’s twenty thousand,” he said, “but if you can prove yourself a team player, eventually we will bring you up to the posted salary.”

I had been home almost two months and it seemed possible no one would ever hire me. I had forgotten my pen. I frequently calculated the pace at which I was spending my Peace Corps readjustment allowance. I nodded and tried to figure the hourly wage as the sunglassed man spoke about machinery supplies.

“So,” he said, “if you were on our team, I mean, if we were a football team, tell me what position you would play.”

While in the Peace Corps I had watched all of Friday Night Lights. I understood locker room pep talks were needed to win. I understood it was common for underdog teams to win big games in the last minute, nay, in the last second, while Coach Taylor windmilled his arms and screamed from the sidelines. I did not know the job descriptions for any of the players.

“The quarterback,” I said.

The racquetball fan was damp in his polo shirt. “Tell me more.”

I thought of Jason Street. Vince Howard. The asshat JD McCoy. Mostly of Matty Saracen, that tire hanging in his grandmother’s yard. “I like to make decisions,” I said. What else did quarterbacks do? “I like to lead people.”

“That’s interesting,” he said. “That would be unusual for an administrative assistant.”

Sweat threaded down my spine. I did not want this job, but I wanted a job. “Administrative staff are quiet leaders,” I explained. “You have to help people do what you want them to do, without them knowing you’re the reason they’re doing it.”

He liked this enough that he offered a glimpse at the heart of the company: the warehouse of ball bearings. I had a half-foot on the owner and tried not to exude my height as I trailed him through the echoing, dimly lit space. There were not as many employees as I’d imagined. He told me to climb some stairs, look at the boxes on the second level, and I wondered if he might murder me.

I was, though, the quarterback. “Thank you so much for this tour,” I said, to indicate the tour was over. I shook his moist hand and fled onto Spring Garden Street, where I lifted my heels from their shoes, blisters bleeding into my stockings. Perhaps the Peace Corps would be the height of my life. Then the 25 bus came; a bird shit on my head en route to an interview with an education non-profit that styled itself as “Peace Corps but in American schools”; I got the non-profit job; I turned twenty-seven; Hurricane Sandy hit, and days trapped in my apartment trying to unclog the sink my housemate had ruined with bacon grease; then six years and three jobs and one Masters degree later, we became a city of winners. We would win and I would still know nothing about football except that whatever the Philly Special was it looked like something off Friday Night Lights, and Fishtown was all fireworks in the gaps between rowhomes, and I got a day off work for the parade—not just a fair call, but the only one possible.

PLACEBO (I EXPECT)John Elizabeth Stintzi

In elementary school, as our whole class
practiced for the yearly track and field meet,
I got the idea that eating Tums on a run
would relieve me of the stitch in my side.
I remember fishing the roll from my pocket,
the chalk dissolving in my throat, the brilliance
blooming beneath my ribs, the placebo 
(I expect) vibrating along my body—a rush
akin to learning a cheat code for infinite life.
I can't remember the last time that I tried
to trick my body into becoming excellent
at something I didn't want to participate in. 
Or perhaps I could, but then (I expect)
that old stitch would migrate to my hand. 

Offside, OthersideSarah Salcedo

Two teams meet in a head-on collision at the line of scrimmage. A chorus of grunts and growls grind against the crunch of crashing helmets and shoulder pads, like boots skidding to a halt in gravel. Our quarterback runs backwards, his eyes trained on Number 23 in the endzone. He throws the ball, his arm arching forward, his fingers fanning out like the feathers of a wing in flight. 

The crowd screams. We’re rising to our feet, roaring to drown out the thoughts of the opposing team, everyone hoping that our cheers will motivate our players alone, our breath curling upwards in the cold November night. 

My heart isn’t in the cheering. I’m gripping my father’s game ball, his disdain palpable through the pebbled leather. It’s been filigreed with decades of quarterbacks’ signatures so I don’t dare set it down. When I hold it, I remember years of lectures from Dad with it looming over us on the mantle. Despite that, I force myself to continue his tradition: getting name after name signed on the ball at the game on or after every Thanksgiving.

“You will carry on my traditions,” he had said from his deathbed, enough strength left to stick his finger in my face. “People expected me there. They’ll expect my son to be there too, even if you’re not where you’re supposed to be.”

Number 23 catches the ball but is immediately tackled by the defensive corner. A lady next to me, her face painted in cardinal red and ghost white, jumps up and screams, swinging her cup and covering me in beer. I glare and she turns to me, flexing, still screaming, but this time she’s aiming her mouth up at me. She’s eaten the chili dogs, I can tell. 

I’m six foot and change and I don’t feel like yelling at someone half my height. I step around her without saying anything, game ball tucked securely under my armpit like I’m about to rush out of the pocket. She yells something after me that gets swallowed up by the crowd. 

The line is unusually long for the men’s room tonight. Ten people are queued up past the door, partially blocking the wood-fired pizza stand next to it. I’m transfixed for a moment by the sight of the cheese bubbling inside the brick-lined oven. I look over the women’s bathroom. At least 40 people are lined up there. It could be worse, I tell myself while I get in line. Cleaning up can’t wait for home. I’m covered with beer and worse, the game ball is wet and sticky. The most recent name on it is smeared. 

Dad’ll kill me, I catch myself thinking. 

I shake my head and take a deep breath. I don’t need to worry about that any longer.

The lights in the concourse flicker. 

“There a storm forecast tonight?” an old man says to his friend in front of me.

“I hope so. We’re great when there’s weather. This Arizona team can’t play for shit in the rain.”

The line moves forward. I hear the crowd booing. A man behind me who’s glued to his phone informs the rest of us that we fumbled the ball. 

“Our O-line’s been shit ever since they traded Andrews. Shoulda just paid him what he asked for,” the old man says. “Man deserved to get paid.”

“We picked up two corners for our bench with that money,” his friend snorts. “You don’t know nothin’.”

The air gets colder as the lights flicker again.

“You know less than nothing, you little shit,” I hear my father hiss. 

I look around as I take another step forward in line. There’s nothing there. 

I switch the game ball to the other arm. It feels like it’s grown colder, so cold it freezes through my jacket, my sweater, and ices the skin beneath. 

I shudder and tell myself to cut it out as I step forward again, passing out of the lit concourse into the dark, tiled entrance. A dim fluorescent bulb lights the bathroom in dying leaf green from the far end of the room. The smell of woodsmoke from the nearby pizza oven and the piss from the urinals clash as I head for the sinks. I grab rough paper towel and begin cleaning off the ball. 

“Hey! You’re Randall’s boy!” 

A man washing his hands next to me, his breath a refinery of ethanol, nudges me as I carefully blot off the leather with a barely damp towel. 

I don’t look up. 

“Yeah, he was my Dad.”

“Riiiiight,” the man drawls. He’s joined by an equally drunk friend of his.“Steve, this is Randall’s boy. You know, Randall Jones?”

“No shit. Yeah, I know Randall. Best QB of the 80s.”

The first drunk man laughs and shakes his head.

“Like hell he was. But he was still ours.” 

He claps me on the back. My fingers tighten on the ball, spread apart like I’m about to throw it away. I clench my jaw. 

“You were a QB too, right?” he continues. “At UW? Injured your senior year and then you left the game to… what? What’d you do with your life?”

I take a deep breath. I’m still covered in beer and a headache is spreading from my left temple towards my eye. 

I draw my full length up over the men. “Excuse me.” 

I wet down another towel and walk toward the nearest stall. 

“He just quit? Was he shit?”

“Shhh, I don’t remember. But Randall never got over it. Gave a press conference disowning his own son.”

I slam the stall door behind me.

“Don’t worry, QB Junior. Your Dad was a dick off-field,” the drunk calls after me.

“And he wasn’t that great on field,” his friend mutters as their voices fall away into the mutter of other voices, the screams of the crowd in the stadium echoing in through the passage and ricocheting off the porcelain. 

I lean against the closed door and hold the football out in front of me. My entire hand covers more than half the ball. When my Dad saw my handspan as a teen, he had told me there was no question as to what I was meant to do in life. When I got my first concussion, he never doubted. He told me he was toughening me up for the field. His fists always hit harder than any team member I’d face in the years that followed.

I am holding the ball over the toilet. 

What if this is something I don’t hold onto anymore? What if I just let it go, leave it for some other asshole to find, leave the legacy and expectations swirling counter-clockwise away? 

The lights flicker again before going out. 

With the darkness, comes silence. 

I open the door. The room is empty. The air has almost crystallized from the cold. I flex my hand out of instinct but the ball, instead of falling, is frozen to my hand.

“Should be you on that field,” Dad says, his image flickering gray-green in the mirror over the sinks. He’s wearing the suit he was buried in, his desiccated jaw hanging aslant. 

The pain from the cold of the game ball radiates up my arm. I try to wave it off but it’s stuck. 

Dad appears behind me, translucent, rotted, now wearing the vintage uniform from his glory days. 

“Let it go, Dad.”

A guttural moan rumbles from deep in his chest. The worms have been at him already. Ice spider-webs over the mirrors. He squares off against me.

“You turned your back on your legacy,” he shrieks. He rushes me. I brace for impact but he passes through, the cold seizing up my lungs as I’m flung into the sinks and mirrors. Glass splinters and breaks off around me. I wheeze, gasping for air, and drop to the floor. 

I crawl to my knees and scramble into a run out of the bathroom as shards of glass fly like daggers behind me. 

The concourse is as dark and empty as the bathroom. I can hear the distant screams of the stadium, but there is no one in sight. I jump over the counter of the nearest concession stand, hiding behind it.

“You shamed me,” Dad growls, his voice echoing around me. 

I’m not as surprised that he’s shown up as I should be. I’ve been running from him all my life. It makes sense he’d follow me beyond the grave. 

“You were supposed to follow in my footsteps. Didn’t want to risk another blow to your head or your precious academic scholarship,” he sneers. “I didn’t raise you to be weak, boy.”

The flames from the oven in the pizza stand where I’m hiding make the dark around me sharper.

“I was afraid of injury. So what? I didn’t want to get hurt again doing something that mattered more to you than it did to me.” I take a breath. “Football wasn’t what I was meant for.”

A wail echoes around me. The air grows even colder, the flames from the pizza stand grow a bit dimmer. 

“But somethings are worth getting hurt for,” I say. I kneel on my right leg, bracing myself with my extended left from behind, my foot tensed against the ground, my eyes on the fire in front of me. 

I see him out of the corner of my eye, moving towards me wrapped in green light. I race for the oven, my arm outstretched. 

He screams “no” as I push my arm into the fire, the game ball igniting as soon as it reaches the flame. My hand releases from it. I pull away and turn. My father burns, white flames devouring his spectral corpse until there’s nothing left but his eyes, still glaring at me until they vanish. 

The lights flicker and come on. 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” a woman says, a flour-covered apron around her waist, as she motions to the game ball burning beside a sausage, mushroom, and olive pizza.

“I am so sorry,” I fumble, reaching for words, laughing from nerves. “You know how it goes, you come here, you get drunk, you throw a ball in a pizza oven…”

She uses the paddle to reach for the burnt husk of the ball and hands it back to me, muttering under her breath about not being paid enough to deal with drunks and that this isn’t the first time this has happened.

“Here you go, dumbass.”

“I don’t want this anymore,” I say, apologizing again and placing all the money from my wallet into her tip jar. 

I put the ball in the trash next to the stand.

It smolders, a few embers still glowering in the stitches. The dying screams of a man who was disappointed even in the afterlife fade as I walk away.

Am I doin it right dad? photo

image: Luke Epperson

White Flag from a Tired FanStephen Ground

To the players, management, and ownership of my beloved Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club,

You century old beast of scarred knuckles and cheeks. I’ve unabashedly supported and adored you since before I could conceive of that thing called memory, for which you’ve done very little but fling mounds of disappointment and your aloof contempt at for most of our wretchedly one-sided relationship. Little flecks of inescapable dook baked into the delicate blue-and-white tapestry of my life – hopes, dreams, the ups and downs and waves of my fragile mental health. I’ve worn you on toques, tees, socks, pants, jackets, gitch, sweaters, onesies. On blankets in bed and memorabilia on walls. Decals and little flapping flags on cars. To say nothing of the jerseys. A new design every year or three, and always a new promising prospect or sturdy vet acquisition to stitch on the back [who’s no sooner traded or dumped like lame livestock, adding another $300 anachronism to the mound in the back of my closet]. I’d probably have you tattooed into my flesh if you’d given me a single thing to celebrate. Yet no amount of royal blue or pristine white can hide the pain you repeatedly inflict, burning like smiles lining the stage of a questionable beauty pageant for abandoned kids.

Every autumn I make my annual migration to the couch, smile meekly, and await my reward for unflinching loyalty: winters of recycled hope and trust slowly re-established through streaks of flashy goals, piles of points in the standings, and the weekly sunshine of Saturday night at seven pm EST, coast to coast. It dissipates like a backyard rink each spring, though, when you coolly and unsurprisingly choose to jam your collective fist inside Leaf Nation’s collective chest, grip our throbbing heart that’s dying for a taste of success yet aching with terror that you’ll just do what you always do, and the league and its fans will laugh joyously in our faces yet again:

Can you believe it? They really thought the Make Ya Laffs had a shot this year. Sad.

And to comfort us in our yearly rite of hoping/loving you/hating you/hating ourselves? Cue card excuses. Lessons learned from this and come back better next year.

Or, maybe, for once – you won’t disappoint. We might have recently surpassed the Big Apple and Windy City in the ranks of historical supremacy for professional hockey misery, but don’t let us become the Red Sox or the Cubs. I’m begging you. Don’t let my fate unfurl towards a back page footnote in the local paper:

Ancient, Stubborn Man Flabbergasted They Actually Did It,

Immediately Dies From Exhaustion

I want to love you, but I need love in return. Yet we both know you’re nothing but consistent. Even when you’re bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, and more talented than the half-broken speed bump in your way? You crumble, just the same.

To paraphrase a famous physicist, The Maple Leafs find a way.

This is all to say that this season, I won’t be around. Not to start, anyways. I can’t support another mirror setup to blow my hopes up, or my friends’, loved ones’, and the rest of the honest, hardworking, too-loyal-for-you folks victimized by the last fifty-four horrendous years. It’s already January and I haven’t given you the satisfaction of my eyeballs yet, and I won’t until you bless your Gatorade to expel April ghosts and prove May [or god forbid, June] hockey is not a mass hallucination that only benefits teams and fans in other markets. Until it feels like the Blue and White lifting the Cup in my lifetime isn’t entirely fucking unlikely.

My heart has no more aches for the boys in blue. I’ve sobbed my frustrations dry, met too many dawns thanks to the sleeplessness of disappointments I didn’t earn and don’t deserve. See you in May, or maybe not. The puck’s in your corner.

            Sincerely,

                        A tired fan

P.S. It’d be totally great if you could at least get those four wins in the first round this year, though. Even if the Bolts sweep us in the second. I know it’s been a long time, but I think I can probably wait up to five more years [after this one] for the Cup. That’s it, though. I mean it. Do you think six decades will be enough to get the job done? Please? I’m not unreasonable. I’m really not. Please. God damn it. Please!

Dinosaur BaseballK Roberts

Brontos in the outfield is shagging pop flies. Caught like a tossed grape, the ball’s cupped gently between his molars, snapped back to second base with an agile flip from a flexible pipeline neck. T. Rex on the pitcher’s mound scowls at the score. It’s 2-and-2, man on third.  As he snarls, thunderous noise erupts from the crowd. 

The umpire must be that Stegosaurus, crouching behind the slugger. Or perhaps that’s the catcher, pivoting to slap down a strike with a wide-paddled rack of fins. In the stands, spectators batten their appetites on lizard rolls smothered in swamp onion sauce.

Pacing the sidelines, the team’s designated runner is a Velociraptor, naturally, because they’re wily, wiry, and fast. For this is how imagination works—it rummages in the mind’s toybox, grabbing whatever is closest, flinging stitched-together scraps of Saturday morning cartoons into the Technicolor mitts of fragmented movie scenes, changing a character’s batting order on a whim. When the creative footlocker empties, the dugout does, too.

Inning’s over, the game’s won, and a bee swarm of blue Smurfs clad in elfin uniforms storms across the third-base line onto the field. No longer wary of being tagged out by restraint or inhibition, they jubilantly surround home plate. The Cambrian explosion of joy sends their Jurassic Park opponents trudging to the shower room—heavy-heeled as only a losing team can be, when it’s headed towards last place and the season of oblivion.

Gray photo

image: Jack Buck

Forty Dollars / TennesseeZoe Grace Marquedant

We’d sat, packed, pitched over the field, and possibly only held in place by the soft push and crush of other people. Burned badly a sort of salmon filet pink, but only on the left because we were up in the cheap seats where your knees touch the shoulder blades of the row in the front of you. But camaraderie! A little shared sweat never hurt nobody and besides, we’ll never see each other again except when we reunite in the skin cancer ward since there’s no cover and we only left once given the fountain lets loose a slow loogie of body-temperature water that’s not worth waiting for, so we left and went back to the nosebleeds. I miss that layered togetherness of T-shirts and asking the very most of Banana Boat. I miss that dehydrated heart of that game.

Tanka(s) for Too Many Mascots and Tennessee LogicZoe Grace Marquedant

Cartoon dog? Real dog?
Who's dog? Unrelated dog?
Wait- Davy Crocket?
What's a Rocky Top? Southland?
I thought this was the Smokies

The color orange?
The letter T? The centaur?
Dolly Parton? No?
Well, why not Dolly Parton?
Isn't she your Patron Saint?

Is it Patti Page?
The year 1998?
No? A "volunteer"?
What kind of mascot is that?
You should have gone with "Jolene"

After the GameLJ Pemberton

The smallest sousaphone player in the marching band sat on the top row of the stadium with the rest of her section. Next to her, the guys played games on their phones between songs and cut up, making fun of the football players slipping and sliding in the mud below. In the stands, at least, they had blankets to wrap around their shivering bodies. Tucked into their pockets and gloves and held against their torsos were their mouthpieces, kept warm for the next song.

She had started with trombone in seventh grade. Then, in eighth grade, her teacher had said they needed a tuba—here’s a book, here’s a music stand—and, during class, put her in a practice room to teach herself. She did, successfully, and then moved.

The high school band director at her new school was incredulous. We never get a tuba, he said, always a clarinet or flute, sometimes a trumpet, but never a tuba. The other sousaphone players in the marching band were strong and girthy guys with sex on their mouths and zits on their cheeks. They mocked her, asked her if she was wet when it rained during practice, asked her if she needed help picking up her instrument. She hated them, but she knew the music by heart and she liked the weight of the brass on her shoulder. The thundering sound of her instrument she liked most of all.

On the field below, the first string had come and gone with three injuries in the first half. The smallest sousaphone player perked up when number 36 was called for the offense. Running back—tall and distractable. She’d met him after school three weeks before when they both showed up for a theater audition and didn’t know anyone in the drama club. It said open auditions on the flyer, he said, and she had replied she was there for the same reason.

Number 36 called himself Adam from the stage. He did a monologue from Henry IV and passably seemed to understood what he was saying. She did a bit as the Stage Manager from Our Town. After the audition, they waited as the other kids were fetched by stay-at-home moms. Finding themselves alone, they decided to walk over behind the baseball fields, now left unkempt. She told him people called her Shorty, but her name was Michelle.

Alright MISS Shorty, he said, and no one had called her that before. She laughed, and he held her hand. They walked, talked about their classes, their friends. He was a year ahead of her. She had heard of some of his friends, but the two of them were as good as strangers, though less so by the minute. We’ve got a couple away games coming up, he said, and that’s when she said, I know, I’ll be there—I’m in the band, and he paused a moment about this new fact, wondering if it was okay for a guy like him to be holding hands with a girl like her, and then he decided it was fine. Behind the backstop they kissed a while. Then her mom called, said she was parked in front of the school, and they ran back together, their blood hot and fast in their strides.

He waved goodbye.

They didn’t get the part, any of the parts, in the play. But they hung out again. And again.

Now he was dodging, running as far as he could down the field. The quarterback threw and he wasn’t clear, but he still caught the ball, then went down hard. A cornerback on the other team, who had been praying for his chance, hit him midair and knocked his breath away. Second down. The band director rose his baton and the smallest sousaphone player lifted her instrument over her head and rested it on her shoulder, and they played Hang on Sloopy for the fifth time. 

On the field, the other team called time out. The band played on, with a brassy and trombone-heavy rendition of Eye of the Tiger. Cheerleaders down front shook their pom poms at the stands, while the drummers banged on their snares. Soon, a call and response—we got spirit yes we do—

The players lined up on the field, then: snap! And the play—number 36 was down again, but there was a hand-off to the center and number 47 was running between the hashes, down the middle, flying, it seemed, towards the endzone. Defensive tackles couldn’t keep up. Folks in the stands were on their feet. They screamed! He was leaving the world behind.

Touchdownnnnnnnn!!!! said the announcer and number 47 spiked the ball and turned to welcome his teammates’ affection. There was triumph—for some. At the 40 yard line, number 36 was still down. Michelle had kept her eye on him while she played, kept her eye on him while she turned left, right, and then leaned back and pantomimed her way through the music.

Two coaches were out there now, on their knees, a clipboard thrown on the ground. If anyone, in the stands, could have heard their conversation, they would have heard the first coach say, Adam buddy, where’s it hurt?, and they would have heard Adam reply, It doesn’t, coach—that’s the problem.

Michelle was walking. In five minutes she was already down the stands, the sousaphone still around her. Her bandmates were watching, and then the band director, and he was trying to tell her something, but she wasn’t listening. She made it to the fence and took off the instrument and set it carefully on the ground. She scaled the waist high chain links in her uniform and walked across the track past the cheerleaders, walked onto the snowy field, ignored the benchwarmers and the assistant coaches, and continued, out of notice of the referees who were huddled by the endzone deciding what to do next.

She walked right up to number 36 and got on her knees and held his hand. One of the coaches grabbed her, tried to move her away then, but Adam used his strength to tell them no, and she fell back on the ground and there were grass stains on her knees, and he said, My parents aren’t here, and she laughed and said, Mine either, and then medics were coming, and he said, I’ll text you from the hospital, and he was gone.

The game resumed, and she walked back to her instrument, and lifted it over her head and put it on her shoulders, and then she walked up the stadium steps and completed the songs that she was expected to play. And when the band put their instruments again into their cases and filed onto the buses to return to their school, she leaned her temple against the cold glass of the bus window and watched the passing traffic on the drive home.

It was later, after her parents were asleep, that she received a text from him that said—it’s spinal spasms, they said. i should be able to walk again soon. and she replied, holy fuck, that’s scary, but I’m glad you’re gonna be okay. and he said, yeah, and he said, my parents are here now, and she said, good.

He quit before the next game.

The next time she saw him, she said, I’ll miss seeing you play. They were eating frosties in the Wendy’s parking lot. You only saw me once, he said. No, I saw you the other times too—I just didn’t know it was you.

Even that time I ran forty yards against Temple High?

Even then.

They finished but didn’t want to go home yet, so they drove and parked behind the practice field. It was Tuesday night—no one was there. They kissed, better than the first time, got to know the taste of each other, how it was earthy and sweet and good. She knew she wouldn’t be a sousaphone player someday, the way he wasn’t a football player anymore.

In the future he would come over with his wife and kids at Christmas. By then, he would be a programmer. She would be a graphic designer. They would send the kids to the basement to play while the adults caught up, drinking spiked eggnog. Her husband would put on a playlist of holiday favorites and they would talk about when Adam’s eldest had been kicker in the pee wee league, when Michelle’s son had discovered a litter of kittens in a nearby mineshaft. They had moved back home because it was cheaper than heading to the big city where everyone else, it seemed, had gone.

Adam would say, Oh my god, are we townies? and Michelle would laugh.

Oops? she would say.

But for now, she was still in the band. And he had just quit the team. For now, they could be half-cooked, full tilt, and not sure about what came next.

TKOFranco Romero

Saturday night, January 23rd, I watch Dustin Poirier knock out Conor McGregor.

Poirier is someone you can believe in. Not just fun to watch. He loves his daughter and runs a charity for under-priveleged youth.

I watch him win and say to Monique, “I feel like we just broke out of the matrix.”

He wasn’t supposed to win. I didn’t think he could. He is my favorite fighter and I thought he would lose.

-

            Over the course of the next two days, I probably watch the end of the fight 50 times. Not just for the way Poirier finishes McGregor— swarming him with punches after eliminating his front leg with calf-kicks— but for the reactions of the commentators.

Jon Anik, Daniel Cormier and Paul Felder can’t seem to believe that Poirier has defeated McGregor.

I can’t believe Poirier has defeated McGregor.

Every pre-fight piece of content was centered around the question of what McGregor would do once he “smashed” Poirier.

Who would be next for “the Notorious.”

But then Dustin won. He knocked out “The Notorious.”

And he walked to the edge of the octagon to point at Jolie, his wife.

 And Jolie said, “that’s the last time you’ll doubt my husband, I swear to god.”

They’ve been together since they were in high school.

I’ve been with Monique since I was in high school.

On Monday morning, I watch the ending of the fight again before driving to work. And it startles me to realize that life can be different.

On my phone screen, Poirier walks around the octagon and Paul Felder says “are you kidding me right now.”

Jon Anik says, “Louisiana, your guy has done it.”

It’s part of the world, this change.

“Dustin Poirier has produced the biggest win of his career by a mile,” Jon Anik says.

We can change. We can.

-

            When I wake up on Tuesday, snow is caking the ground. It cakes the trees, the earth, my car. I think about how different last year was, trying to focus on it and generate gratitude.

-

            Wednesday my therapist and I talk about boundaries. She asks me to visualize how I feel when I am overwhelmed. Unable to ask for a moment to breathe. I do my best to feel like I feel in those situations.

At the end of our session, I put my hands up in front of me, facing the screen where she and I talk over zoom. I hold my hands there in this way and feel like something inside me is opening, awakening, being pulled apart to reveal what is underneath and what is better. I keep my hands hovering in the air in this way.

She asks me how I feel.

I say, “I feel good.”

            She says, “it feels good to have a boundary.”

-

            It’s been a year since I started therapy.

-

It’s been a year since I cut my hair.

-

 It’s been a year since I left my job at the rehab center.

-

            It’s natural to feel depressed when you can’t see the sun.

-

            Kelsey, my high school girlfriend died in the winter when I was 17.

-

I think about her every winter.

-

            I miss her a lot.

-

            Sometimes I take walks with her. I imagine, or believe, or pretend she’s walking with me.

I see flowers perking up through snow, or rays of light peeking through tree branches. The cold sky between the barren aspens. I choose to see her in these things.

I tell her about my life, tell her how I am, if I am happy, what I am going to do for the day.

-

            Thursday night I dream about being back at the rehab center. I dream that I’m there and a coworker asks if I’m worried about “Adam,” a schizophrenic client who will be admitted that day.

I tell myself in the dream, it’s ok, you only have to work here a little longer.

-

            I can’t believe it’s been a year.

-

            Sometimes I get very worried that I will not have any money and will have to go back there to ask for a job.

-

            Sometimes I wonder if leaving was the right thing to do. Abandoning the people there, the clients I worked with.

-

            Sometimes, I think that transformation can only happen slowly. That moments where we feel we’ve changed will melt with the snow in March.

-

Sunday night, Monique and I lay in bed together and she asks me how I feel about having a child with her. It's a conversation we have every few months. An ongoing discussion. A thought experiment.

 I say, “I go back and forth.”

I usually say this. It isn't until Monique tells me her feelings that I know my own. Such is the nature of marriage.

 She says she's back to not wanting a child. I ask why and she says it's because she doesn't want to give up her life with me. She enjoys my company too much.

I feel this way too. I think she's the best part of my life and one I don't want to share. Why divide our love?

But it's happening already. Something else is here with us.

I tell her, “if something happened to me you'd be happy we had a kid. And wouldn't it be cool? It would be half you and half me.”

She laughs and admits it sounds cool. Then we talk about how this decision is only partly our own. Whether or not to bring a person into the world. Monique points out the fact of our nature as animals. We are designed to reproduce so it's partly out of our hands.

That is, after all, why we're even discussing this. The idea of making a third person doesn't come to us for no reason.

 I say there's many things guiding us toward this decision. Culture, the religion we were raised in, our genes. All of these things are conspiring to make another person appear.

We don't really have much say, other than yes or no, we will or we will not. There's all these things outside of us pushing us toward this destination.

Are you kidding me right now.

 Things that are moving, a spark that animates the world. I tell Monique I will never be comfortable with the word God, at least I don't think so, but ask her what else that could be called.

Louisiana, your guy has done it.

And I mention that I’ve been thinking about how things can change. Trying to keep it in mind.

A Month’s Worth of Dreams About Tim Riggins and Tornadoes Leisa Loan

It always starts with a beer on the floor
liquid chugging out sideways
slowly like blood from a cut

Sometimes before he wakes up
the storm takes the roof off

Other times he shouts it’s an honor to block for you
& before I smell the wind change he tackles the tornado

Most times I want to be carried through
the tornado on his back
there is no neutral zone where
we are not touching

Once I thought the engine starting was
someone humming into laughter
he threw me into the front seat breathing
in a slow fast forward

his black pickup was lifted into lightning
not quite like Danny and Sandy when
they drive into the sky there was no singing
it was more Helen Hunt cows screaming
nails being ripped from the boards

this one was violent for people
like us who only know how
to run hard to the endzone
like something under
the field wants you

Let’s Touch God This Time, BoysLeisa Loan

[an erasure of the Friday Night Lights pilot script]

 

Yearbook

                youth

 

         the

                    silent

 

trophies

 

              orange

 

                       in the desert

 

small hands        larger hands

 

  drunk

 

    on

 

       sun

 

 and

 

West Texas

 

More      world

 

More     football

 

More   

 

blue Gatorade

 

   never

 

a

 

war

 

     to      take

 

lightly

 

Dina Relles' Football Gloves photo

image: K.C. Mead-Brewer