I hope I never forget that pack of middle-schoolers
at the playground near my house, how they acted
like middle-schoolers, shouting their conversations
across the neighborhood as if showing off new sneakers,
the boys doing mean things to the girls,
the girls saying mean things about each other.
If I hadn’t been at the jungle gym with my two-year-old,
I’m sure they would have been smashing bottles
on the basketball court.
Then, like pigeons when popcorn spills,
they flocked to a spot under the basket.
Some squealed. A boy held out his arm,
keeping others back. “It’s alive,” I heard one say,
and suddenly one boy was cupping a baby bird
in his hand as another climbed the pole
that held up the net. “Give it to me,”
said the boy on the pole, and he took the bird
and placed it in the nest that was behind the backboard.
Too much misery goes down
in this city I call my home. I’m in no mood
to list it here, now. In my children’s schools,
the schools where my wife teaches,
it’s all too clear which kids won’t get past
their dead mother, their addicted father, the fact
that no one has ever read them a book…
It was just one small bird
who must have had a stupid parent—
who would build a nest
on the backside of a backboard?—
but that afternoon it was safe,
and as I chased my son, trying to stop him
from stepping in the dog shit,
the voices of the middle-schoolers fading
as they made their way up the block
to go play video games and pretend to kill things,
as I held his hand while he zipped down the slide
I thought, yeah, I guess I could live here
for the rest of my life.
J.D. Scrimgeour is the author of the poetry collections The Last Miles and Territories, and he won the AWP Award for Nonfiction for Themes For English B: A Professor’s Education In & Out of Class. With musician Philip Swanson he released Ogunquit & Other Works, a CD blending music and poetry. His third poetry collection, Lifting the Turtle (Turning Point), will appear in November 2017.
A conveyor belt delivers mutton and fowl.
Hot meringues suffer and collapse
under my ruthless fork.
His breath tripped over words stuck between his teeth
and tongue as sinewy shoulders curved.
The child stood, small, shivering in her tattered brown coat,
a dented, scuffed brown suitcase gripped in her hand.
mushrooms, beets, carrots, cabbage,
uncle’s ashen face.
Light drips on the handle of our cups.
Mine is dark blue, hand
Crafted by a lady I met
Once, in Kentucky. It’s filled
With Camomile tea. No sugar.
You sometimes wonder about
Pangea, the supercontinent
that existed 300 million years
I miss driving with you at
night, sometime past safe,
our lips still wet with
When he had finished writing, and crossing out
and standing and rewriting, and looking
out his window, and feeling the sun
I stood and watched you sleeping, had
stood there watching for nearly five minutes in
the shadow of the
hallway for nearly five minutes of circus
time before I dropped your purse on the chair, quiet as death
If I could, I’d use
my recently purchased cell phone
to call the pay phone outside
the community swimming pool
in Fairview Park, Normal, Illinois,
that summer when I was eleven,
and the country 200.
It was the night we were told we couldn’t pretend we were Catholic.
The priest turned only toward you and said, “It’s between you and God.”
And you cried.