Hand on Shoulder, Supporting

I’ll call my father tonight and tell him,

for bringing the pages: thank you.

The pages were from someone’s blog.

He’d analyzed team tactics, had ideas

about which players clicked,

where we were strongest,

whether such strengths’d be enough.

While my siblings and father chatted

I read the pages; appreciated my father

had thought enough of our love

of the tactical side of the game

to want to share this man’s insights,

which he must have found compelling

and engaging, possibly illuminating,

relevant to part of whatever brought us

to this windswept concrete lot

on this first all-business day of winter.

I didn’t tell him. I’d wrapped myself,

trying to find a little warmth.

At one point I overheard him

admitting how terrified he’d been

standing by his mother

while she begged for her chair,

begged to be fed less, to be left alone.

My grandmother shook, shuddered;

although he didn’t offer much else,

I could tell it had been tough for him

to share as much as he had,

to have had continually to bear witness

to his mother’s struggle

against the darkness of forgetting,

encroaching weariness, chill of loss.

In her future: hospice care. Her house

and everything in it: for sale.

My father would have us kids believe

he manages whatever it must feel like,

dealing with the ends of her life.

My mother has admitted to me

she tries telling him,

Don’t put all that on yourself.

Whether he does —

We didn’t discuss it. We were freezing,

shaking with cold, excitement.

My brother’d thrown dogs on the grill.

Worlds of blue and red smoke

whirled past as fans carrying torches

marched toward the stadium, chanting

that they believed we would win.

A camper parked next to our space

served as a staging ground

for another family’s soccer reunion.

They’d plugged in a flatscreen

and stood in circles drinking

while men tended the coals and waited

for meat to finish bleeding.

It felt strangely clean, breathing cold.

My brother-in-law lays stone

and said he’s grateful to have work

through January and into spring.

After we’d eaten the dogs and brats,

pasta salad and chips and cookies,

after we’d talked and shivered

and reminisced, filling as many gaps

as we could think to name among us,

my brother’s girlfriend left

to study for her master’s in business.

After we dressed for the cold,

we cracked a few more beers

and watched throngs of patriots

roiling toward the stadium gates.

While we waited, my other brother,

the younger one,

passed ball one- and two-touch

with my sister and me.

We found the feet of a fellow fan:

a young man who shouted,

“There’s the touches!” on his way by.

Touches. I’ve always loved that:

the way sport reframes

what you know and need into skills

which can be practiced, perfected.

During the game we’d see men go

to ground for blows five-year-olds

could’ve withstood. Where’s strength,

I wondered, while my brothers moaned

over challenges, unearned advantages.

But strength in shielding

an opponent off the ball, bursting

into space, playing a teammate in

with a beautifully timed through pass;

and stength in holding a defender back

and lifting one’s head to find a gap,

to beat the keeper near-post —

when all the players converged

on the goal-scorer, and we all bounced

on our toes and grew hoarse

and my brother spilled his pilsner

throwing an arm over my shoulder,

I knew what it must have felt like —

what it would have felt like, or will,

standing by while someone stronger

flails, falters beyond their own ability

to recover — composure, dignity.

I high-fived my father. The gesture

wasn’t foolish but furious, fierce

for its knowingness, its ache to reveal

what I had just then come to realize —

about touch, and what’s important

about pages and time together.

I hope the gesture said,

though it may be freezing,

we’ve just watch our team fight back.

And I hope it carried forward, too.

We would soon watch our team lose,

beaten by a momentary lapse —

an opponent left unmarked,

given space to head in a lofted pass.

My brother would say on our way out

that it was only a matter of time;

no one wins and keeps winning.

We had our chance, though, I thought.

We’d found a goal. Our touch.

Players and fans’d come together

and obliterated the cold.

I was thinking of my father,

hoping that chance would remind him

how a moment of strength,

so long as we hold it close,

could overpower chill and darkness.

I write about life and sometimes about writing here and at Fallerideas.com.

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