This boy of mine tried
to be a sportsman.
Jane and I watched his team,
heedless ducklings clutching
plastic bats behind the T-ball,
the ball up high, right there
where they couldn’t miss it,
but they did. When shouts from
other parents roused us from our chat,
we tossed encouragement
into the ballfield’s air, no matter
whose kid got a hit.
Things got serious the next summer,
one level up onto the honest-to-God
Little League ladder, raucous parents
lobbing their frustration
at any boy not quite up to speed,
their snarls slapping the sunstruck air.
Our sons begged to quit, and we let them.
He swam like a fish, but not
for any team. He went out for track,
but running was what he liked to do
down the alley, scuffing up rough
gravel dust, or around
the trees at rest stops, any time
we released him on a road trip.
I called him my puppy.
He tried football, shoved into
the American dream of his
hell-bent father, but the only story
he wanted to tell was about Jason
breaking his nose, and how his
dad, the doctor, set it straight
right there in the stands, no pity.
He quit that, too, with my blessing.
He could have claimed asthma,
the hand that slammed him into the hospital
when he was only five, implacably close
to death, but he never stooped to excuses.
It was about running
when he felt like it, jumping
for a prize he really wanted, throwing
for the thrill of nailing the target he’d hung
in the air himself.
Years later, he told me
what sent him to the ER
was a game he made up
in the back yard, where the pine tree
burst with saffron bits each spring.
He threw rocks at its narrow trunk, he said,
just to see the pollen leap and fall,
a blizzard he could unloose at will,
covering his hair and T-shirt in gold.
He had no idea it could drown him.
Through his sneezes
and tearing eyes, breath
stuck inside his clenching chest,
he kept on pestering those trees,
making them perform
their magic, one of those tricks
only he knew how to do,
no team, no refs, no crazy-ass
other kids’ parents, and so he would keep
doing it and doing it, mastering the sport
that could kill him, unbridled,
rounding the bases toward home.