Two Poems by Jim Daniels

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy


Afternoons

What shift did God work
    when he built this plant?

We are 3-11. Addictions
    to math are common

as well as imagination-failure
    for which no transplants exist.

Midnight smells like menthol cigarettes
    and the dream of a woman awake

and waiting. When did God shower?
    When did he drink beer?

How much bad TV could he stand?
Noon, I sit on the porch and listen

to the lack of traffic, the silent heat,
    the tender hell of waiting.

 

Soccer Practice, 9/11/01, Pittsburgh

    I turned off the TV. The coach,
I studied the list of phone numbers
    but called no one.
I drove my son up the hill to the field.
    Six kids showed, and we ran
the drills, ending with a scrimmage,
    three on three, yellow pinnies
versus green (not necessary,
    but the kids wanted them).

    Afterward, I clutched my equipment bag
of balls, cones, pinnies, my whistle, a first aid kit
    and carried it back to the car.
You might think I should’ve cancelled.
    I felt. I felt. I felt.
I’ve deleted the word “like” three times so far:

*

In our league, we didn’t keep score,
    though some of the kids did.
The teams were named by jersey color.
    You could not cheer for your child.
Just Go Blue! or Go Maroon! We were Black.
    The kids, seven and eight, laughed
and ran like colorful cartoon birds.
    My assistant coach was from Serbia.
He kept score. He knew no other way.

*

If the world had better things to do, no one knew
    what those things were. Or, at least, I didn’t.
I knew little about soccer: Spread out. Pass the ball.

The school president asked me to write a poem
    for him to read at homecoming
for the families of alumni victims.
    And I did. Knowing nothing of their grief. 
Spread out. Pass the ball.

*

In Qatar, teaching at our new campus,
    I took a mosque tour to learn a thing
or two. As I was leaving, the guide politely said
    So you are from Pennsylvania.
    We have heard,
he said, the U. S., he said,
politely, staged that plane crash. Scattered
    some debris.
We were so far apart,
I stood sputtering in that wreckage.

I do not know what those children remember
    of that day. My son remembers nothing.
He has been asked. They have all been asked.
    Every kid got a trophy, no names on them.

The kind man had demonstrated ritual cleansing
    in the mosque wash room, the poetry
of careful words, gestures. I should have taken
notes. I should have said/I mean/like.

He handed over my gift bag with a Koran
    and other Islamic texts in English.
I had never held a paper bag so thick, so sturdy,
    as if from a store only God could shop at.
We had just eaten a traditional meal, together,
    with our hands, on the floor,
ripping meat from bones.

*

 If you can tell me what I should have
    told him, where I should have
begun, I will you tell you why
    we held soccer practice
on that high hill overlooking our city.
   
*

Life gets away, and suddenly
    that bomb shelter you planned to build
the supplies you planned to stockpile
    the crack you planned to patch
the planned purge of your worldly possessions
    the phone call you meant to return
the insult you meant to return
    the dog you meant to love
the ant you meant to squash
    all go by the wayside
but that date is destroyed
    permanently on the calendar, torn out
and tossed, indecipherable instructions
    for grieving.


Photo by Jen Saffron

Photo by Jen Saffron

Jim Daniels’ new book, Birth Marks, will be published by BOA Editions, in Fall, 2013. Recent books include Having a Little Talk with Capital P Poetry, Carnegie Mellon University Press, All of the Above, Adastra Press, and Trigger Man, short fiction, Michigan State University Press, all published in 2011.