Excerpt #97, Rocking-Chair Moon

Heading South
—Carly

College is still months away,
but Holly’s already perched on the edge,
all set to take off for California—
Berkeley, she calls it—
like a migratory butterfly,
a stunt-flying monarch,
prepared to wow even the blasé Golden-Staters
with her brilliance and talent,

their country cousin from the great wet north.

I thought maybe we’d end up
at the same school, but she wanted to land
somewhere with wider horizons.
Me? I like tall, drippy trees and a scrap of blue
overhead if I’m lucky and
my favorite coastline ninety minutes off
and Mom three hours up the road
(less if she meets me halfway).

I know she’ll miss me in that big house
with little remaining of Ben and me
but our pictures on the fridge and
our castoff clothes and the lingering shadows
of our childhood, and little left of Dad
but his spirit following her around like
a panhandling gull and his tools in the garage
and his backyard pile of lumber,

rotting gracefully.

I’ll miss Holly,
but we can still talk and text and
exchange thoughts if we really concentrate,
and she’ll be back, I’ll be back,
and when we’re together
maybe some of her adventurous nature
and wherever it’s led her and
whatever she’s absorbed will rub off on me,

and I’ll surprise myself and everyone else
by not just taking that less-traveled road,
but stepping off the shoulder and
into those tall, drippy trees and
blazing my own trail,
finding my way along a twilit route
that features blind curves and brambles

and promise, lurking in the shadows.

 

State Meet
—Ben

I know their names, their schools,
their times, their strategies,
what they like to eat and drink
for pre-race nourishment, even,
but I check them out anyway
as they warm up for this last,
most important competition of the season,
striding back and forth across the field
like ancient Greek messengers
in the dusty, desert sunlight,

and I analyze their faces, I check to see
if girls are hanging around,
helping them out with the right words,
implied incentives,
hints at performance rewards,
close encounters later,
or helping me out
with curvaceous distraction,
but how do I tell which is which?

So in the end I look inside myself
and what I see isn’t
the eighth-best kid in this race,
as my prelim time suggests,
what I see is a relentless yellow dog,
four legs blurred
with speed and flying sand,

and I go to the line confident, head up,
but moving below everyone’s radar,
outside the pulsing radiance
of their flaming egos,
and when the gun cracks
I fall easily into the middle of the pack,
then drift back to my projected spot—
eighth—by the end of the first lap,

but my breath moves fluidly in and out,
smooth like leather,
and my legs stretch out without complaint,
and I set my jaw and set my sights
on Gus Sanchez, the kid from Pasco,
the hometown favorite running in third place,
and I put my head down and
pick up my pace a heartbeat
and by the end of lap two
with my family’s voices chasing after me

I’ve worked my way to sixth,
telling myself not to push it, not to burn out,
even though those first five guys
look within reach right now
and it’s hard to hold back,
but I wait for the next straight
to catch number five and the next one
for four, and then there’s just the Pasco Kid
and the two frontrunners,

who’ve begun to kick already,
neck and neck, and I can feel them
pulling away from me and Pasco,
still my target, and
going into the final curve
I’m on his shoulder and
he looks over at me,
effort and disbelief
but no longer disregard in his eyes,
and I’m thankful
for the glimpse of his vulnerability
because my lungs and legs are battling it out

for the poor-me award
and coming out of the corner
with the crowd rumbling
I dig down and picture that long-ago
tireless yellow dog and edge ahead
and suddenly in front of me
I see first and second and they look like
they’re burned out and tying up and fading
and I push, I push, but I’ve got
only fifty forty thirty meters to go and
even though they’re running on empty,

stride for stride, so am I and I can’t
close down on them and I cross the line
five steps behind but third not eighth,
and I try to walk it off,
catch my breath,
and the two dudes who finished one-two
come up and shake my hand,
and Pasco puts his arm around my shoulders
and says Great race, and

I see Coach Matson barreling toward me
from across the field,
aiming an ear-to-ear smile in my direction,
when from out of nowhere
this junior girl I barely know
runs up and gives me a hug,
and I hug her back, and for a long moment
I’m curvaceously distracted,

but it doesn’t matter, because I’ve realized
that from here on out
what counts isn’t the finish line,

but what I do on the way.

 

Fast Lane
—Carly

Four years—seems like nothing now,
seemed like forever then.

I remember those senior girls—big ideas,
rowdy voices, women’s bodies,
curves and jiggle and swagger—

where’s mine?

But it’s time to move on, ready or not, and
I think the world’s eager for a piece of me,

I’m hungry for a bite of it.

Freedom’s got a smell I like.

 

Not Naked, Unfortunately
—Ben

The hot, dark-haired chick
sitting across from me at Eternal Bean
is reading a Cosmo
with the front-cover headline
How to Touch a Naked Man.
I envy whoever—or is it whomever?
—she has in mind.

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