Guess the Races of Three Boys from Champaign

By D. H. Tracy
                                  1

The nineish summer-skinny imp-boy veers
the bicycle he has no notion yet of trusting
off the sidewalk, where the squashed mulberries
form many contusions. Riding as though and as though
on an animal (maybe his bike
should have gazelle eyes) he is hatching plans
somehow angelically pristine of doubt
between them and fruition. He dumps
the bike on this side of the jungle gyms,
while cottonwood foam blows up from the branch,
and wind imparts the grass two sibling greens,
and parents show their callow half-formed centers
cajoling children. He is alone, and sets
himself to picking clover; whole minutes pass
when all he does is increase one bouquet
of grass-high nondescript white clover blossoms.
There must be a million in the field
not in his hand. He lays the fistful down
and takes a roofing nail out of his pocket,
and with it and his eldritch patience awls
through-holes in his foam-grips. He twists the stems
into a stalk he tapers, pinches off,
and jams into the handlebars, only
to watch the blossoms fall apart and over.

He tries and fails again, incredulous
now the ornament he planned as though
designing a contraption, some trebuchet
or hovercraft half-specified and magic,
will not work on mere enthusiasm.
His tantrum comes on suddenly, a spastic
little stomping dance across the grass,
and ends without his having made a sound.
He is off the way he came. They are
not brutal, the feebly dreamt surrounding houses,
crops striving in the dirt, child-rearing habits
lapsed and current, like childhood diseases.
The bric-a-brac on his bedroom floor that damns
him to time. But neither are they tender
of that thing his paltry ruined posy,
the fanning homely crumbs of perfect whim,
is evidence of.

                                  2

The hangdog rookie lifeguard shuffles in
already delegated an action item
involving a stepladder, a spray bottle,
and a biohazard bag. The dim
guttering aura of his authority
tries to fill the locker room, as does
the smell of sock, and calms imperfectly
the preteens disobeying rule eleven
regarding horseplay. The kid attains the utmost,
handicapable shower stall, yanks
the curtain and deploys his ladder, ascending
three rungs of his portable Golgotha
and staring as though straining to make out
St. Paycheck in a stained glass window. The bottle
and empty plastic sack slump at his sides,
props whose ritual has slipped his mind,
or tools of tradesman or physician agape
at a humdinger, for damned if not nine feet
up the cinder blocks, improbably
massive, glistening, and cantilevered,
there does not jut a load of crap. He says,
almost quietly, already showing
awareness of those situations where
resort to melodrama will not help,
but still somehow reluctant to let go
of being someone singled out by fate,

“You have got to be motherfucking kidding me.”
No poo-flinger or projectile buttor
titters from the bench. The sun, supremely
supercilious in the skylights, mums;
the ceiling fans the shit perhaps was aimed at
spin an rpm too fast for one to follow.
The dented cubby rows and columns retain
the continence of safe-deposit boxes.
If he does not punch out and not come back,
the lifeguard shall be our savior in ways
we scarcely dreamt or paid him for, thinking
all he had to do was watch our children.
As for the mystery of whether one
is being kidded, it is his to bear.
No ceo of pooldom makes that much.

                                  3

The corner drugstore lends the cause a spigot;
the cause runs hoses to the parking lot,
and proto-nubile junior-high girls lure
out of the intersection, by sign and banner,
ten perverts an hour. Shucked garden-snail
of an errand-runner, five dollars gets you
a sort of car wash, and gets the wrestling team
closer to their travel fund objective.
Small talk with the game and patient coach
will pleasantly derail you, as the squad
swarms with half-grasped purpose in your service.
One is dutiful and has a bucket.
One is cheery with a rag. The rowdy
buck for the nozzle, the second-rowdiest
fleeing when one prevails: rinser-off
of quarter panels and future quarterbacks,
broad-shouldered as though tapped for it, as though
for violin or chess. Can he see,
from where he is, the rainbow that he issues,

the laughter-stippled day convened for him
and his? Days to come he is hawking
two-dollar Jujubes out of a knapsack
in the alley by the multiplex;
there fall to him the odd, ambivalent
vagina-samplings behind the Sonic Burger,
and on his cast the day he tries to ollie
the planters at the bank, a turquoise heart
to dot the i in Brandi. We are going
to be all right; good supervisors abound;
our grab-ass shall be moderated, and those
who tsk are bound to say I knew you when.
We need be lots of things, but never lonely.

Source: Poetry (May 2010).

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This poem originally appeared in the May 2010 issue of Poetry magazine

May 2010

Biography

D.H. Tracy's poetry and criticism appear widely. He lives in Illinois.

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Youth, Coming of Age, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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