Junior Soccer

You'd think the ball was a germ, the kids
exuberant antibodies swarming
to douse it with will, then finally
punish it toward the orange witch-hats goal.

My friend's daughter doesn't want us to know
she's eager for us to watch her jostle
her little body into the skirmish.
Her hair's an antenna for attention,

but she never turns, having learned to hide
childish reliance on Mom's esteem.
She still can't grasp the rationale of rules
or which of the brawling feet are on her team.

One boy, the coach's son, head-butts
the ball above a small astonished melee
of teammates contending with each other,
the younger kids intent on getting only

some piece of themselves to touch it,
like tongues waiting to catch the first raindrop,
the older ones more focused, their faces
braced: balanced surfaces of water.

The small girl who invited me here floats
to the sidelines, absentmindedly alone,
staring into the trees behind the school,
before she remembers again we're watching.


The Atlantic Monthly; November 1996; Junior Soccer; Volume 278, No. 5; page 78.


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