Football (American football, if it has to be distinguished)

When I was a teenager
My father slept in his running shoes
To prevent me running away from home
In the middle of the night
He was autistic too
And has hyperacute hearing
So there was no possible way
To slip by his door unheard

He’d block my path
I’d head-butt my way past him
Pitting my 105 pounds
Against his 250+ pounds
And often winning
Because I didn’t feel the pain
And then he’d have to chase me
All the way down the sidewalk
Tackle me
And convince me to come home
Before my screaming
Made a neighbor call 911
Which would inevitably lead
To a mental institution

My father said
I’d have made a good linebacker
This always pleased me to hear
Not that I wanted to hurt him
But that he cared so little for gender roles
That he was willing to envision his daughter
As a football player

When I was young
I wanted to play football
He told me the girl
Was the best player on his team

This worried me
Because for all I wanted to play
I knew I’d suck
And I knew of no life path
In which a girl could play football
Unless she was the best of the best
And maybe not even then

I would not have been able
To see the ball
As more than
Fragments exploding
In all directions
Brown and white
But disconnected and unfamiliar
Just like in basketball

Give me ping-pong
Give me badminton
Give me a game with a small ball
Moving fast
A light ball that my arms could hit
Without bending backwards
And that would activate
My tracking instincts
And I would be able to
Coordinate everything unconsciously
Even stand a chance of winning

But I didn’t want ping-pong
And I didn’t want badminton
Not at school, not there, not then
I wanted football
And nobody would let me play

My arms were too weak
To throw a good pass
My eyesight too jumbled
To make sense of all the players
Moving in all directions
Or the ball, at al

Football is a game of strategy
Of multitasking
I couldn’t do either one

Not to mention social skills
Visual perception
Ability to perform under pressure
If there was a game that was built
For everyone but me
It was football

Still, I wanted to play
I wanted the opportunity
To play, and to suck
And to be allowed to play anyway
Even if not on the elite school teams
I wanted to be able to do this
Without the girls who came after me
Being told:

“Sorry, we tried a girl once.
It didn’t work out.”

I wanted to play badly
Without letting down
A whole gender

I wanted to be
Just another player
Who was always picked last for the team
But who at least got to play

Slug Child

she was a slug-child
no shell protecting her from
cruelty or salt

she was a slug-child
no shell protecting her from
kindness, beauty, love

slugs are tougher than they look
slugs are tougher than you think

[Part of my NaNoWriMo novel, but applies to me as well.]

Bone dry

I believe that I'm strong —
Resilient I say —
Like rubber you push me
I push back, away

I believe I can handle
What the world throws at me
But then the world throws it
Too fast at me for me to see

It hits me in the head
I fall and hit the ground
My mouth is full of mud
I cannot make a sound
I guess I overestimated
My resiliency
I'm bawling like a baby
There is no dignity

Nobody wants to see it
Everybody looks away
When they see someone
Crying in this way

It's not demure
It's not polite
It's not crocodile tears
It's not sweet
It's not cute
It's only primal

It's loss of control
It's “I want my mommy”
And “I want my daddy”
And “I want whatever gods I believe in”
And “I don't care, I want them NOW NOW NOW!” <stomp>
I told you there's no dignity here

But I can't ask for my dad to solve my problems
He has no power to stop his own death
I can't ask my mom
She's got to take care of my dad
Without dying herself

If grief is love then my heart is breaking at the seams
If grief is love then it is only echoed in bottomless screams
And fearing to cry for fear I'll never stop
And crying in the least dignified way
Wailing, screaming, bawling my eyes out

And people ask if it makes me feel better after a “good cry”
It just makes me feel weary and tired and bone, bone dry
So I try not to cry, to no avail this time
For I am going to wail until the end of time
And it won't be demure little upper-class tears
It's the screaming and shaking that plagued my childhood years

I know now it stops
I know my resilience is real
It's not just hubris or pride
I really can endure most anything

But sometimes
Like now
That's just not how it feels
And I wail till I'm bone dry
Bone dry




Time Travel

Books are time travel
Because I can meet
Frederick Douglass and Madeleine L’Engle
At the same time

When I was a child
I didn’t understand
That authors could be dead
They seemed alive to me
As long as their books were printed

People showed me dates
Copyright © 1951
As if this was supposed to mean
The book died before I was even born
I couldn’t understand
The book seemed alive to me
And 1951 was just
An incomprehensible string of numbers

George MacDonald and Julian of Norwich
Teresa of Avila and Sherman Alexie
Sojourner Truth and Diane Duane
Donna Williams and Saint John of the Cross
Lao Tsu and J. R. R. Tolkien

These are people who would never
Just decide to get together
But you can read them side by side
And it’s like meeting all of them
Sitting round a table
And talking to them
About their ideas

Much has been written
In lofty language
About the immortality of the page
But I was living it directly
In written words
Long before anyone taught me
The sonnets of Shakespeare:

“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.”*

You will go to the moon
No one has been there yet”**
Reads a book that I cherished as a child
But how could it lie to me
When Neil Armstrong had been there
Many years before my birth?

Copyright © 1959, said the book
But this had no meaning to me
If the book existed now
How could it fail
To have modern knowledge?

Later, I learned that books
Are the only form of time travel
Available to human beings
Encapsulated in each page
Is the time and place
Where the author wrote the words

So Lao Tsu and Harriet McBryde Johnson
Can sit side by side on my bookshelf
And side by side in time
And I can travel from modern Charleston
To ancient China and back
In the blink of an eye

* William Shakespeare, Sonnet 55
** You Will Go To The Moon, Mae and Ira Freeman, 1959