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.