For a Time
— after “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden
Saturdays my dad wakes beneath the still-bruised
sky. Then with number-crunching hands,
arthritic from calculating sixty hours
a week, he jigsaws silhouettes out of pine
for people’s yards, making vacation cash
we use each year. I never thought to thank him.
I’d forgotten the pattern for the capped boy,
shoulder slung with baseball bat, was a fourth-
grade photograph of me. The little girl stooped
over her midnight kitty was Laney three years ago.
As I watch him through the basement
window staining the wood jet black, sealing
us in shadows from the past, he’s gentle,
stroke after stroke. And, for a time,
so like the man I used to know.
I’ve already lost two whole days
saying goodbyes and getting here,
but I won’t let our move stop me
from training, which means
it’s back to pumping iron, followed by a jog
to the nearest store for a dozen eggs,
for the making of two soft hands,
which started with me and Dad
in the backyard my eighth-grade year,
after I told him football was everything.
Now, it’s just me standing
at the edge of the driveway
tossing those smooth white shells
higher and higher into the air,
like bones of some delicate thing
that’s not quite here yet.
And it’s up to me to keep them from shattering,
like babies falling from the sky.
That’s what Dad had told me to imagine.
At first, I had thought of Laney,
had tried too hard, my hands stiff like wood.
But you just need to put your fingers out
all loose and like they’re not connected the way we know.
Like there are nets between them,
webs that nothing can fall through.
Once you trust them to do their job they do.
Now, I can throw those eggs up forty feet at least,
and watch them fall back into my hands,
like a part of me that keeps returning
even after I let it go.
Coach says, your legs, your feet
will only get you so far, says, blazing
down the sidelines isn’t much good
without the prize in your fingertips,
says, you need quick hands, and eyes
always on the ball, so he’s got you
on your back, arms at your sides,
palms flat to the ground
(only you aren’t allowed to lift them,
except when there’s a ball
nearby), and he stands at your feet,
tosses the pigskin at your chest
(only it’s never where it should be,
the way it is with you being anywhere,
even out there on the field),
and your hands fly up
like hungry birds of prey, like falcons,
maybe, with all that quick in their feathers,
rising up from a dive
(opposite the way that’s in their nature),
just in time to seize, thumbs
always in toward the numbers.
Strong Hands, Sure Hands
After watching too many Rocky movies,
Dad got the bright idea of using ordinary things
in not-so-ordinary ways, and he invented Drill #2:
me in the yard, hoisting his old bowling ball
overhead, just above my fingertips, letting both hands fall,
cradling that weight to my chest like a second heart.
I’m third fastest in all the sprints,
fast enough to make sure Coach won’t cut me,
but, even holding back, I can’t not use my velcro hands,
and my catching nearly everything
has some of them in fists and grumbles,
until all-everything looks-like-a-rock
star defensive end Chuck Stone,
with his red, white, blue ponytailed mohawk
and all those muscles ready to pop,
cracks pads with me, again and again,
and I manage to jump to my feet,
split lip and all, like Dad taught me
all those times in the yard. That’s what turns them.
By the time my feet are needles
threading together obstacle course tires with their silky speed,
the guys are all cheering, and they act
as if I discovered a spark of leftover lightning,
like that’s what’s running through my veins.
Chuck’s there, too, in my face
with his primal scream, pounding his chest,
again and again, as if we’re celebrating fire,
as if this is some essential part of us.
Pretty soon, I’m screaming, too,
I’m pounding my chest with the rest of them.
Then Coach calls us in,
says, good job, and the guys grow silent
all the way back to the locker room.
But I know I’m part of them now,
fleet-footed receiver of the pass,
brother in blood, keeper of the flame.