"The spoil-sport breaks the magic world,
...he is a coward and must be ejected."
Johann Huizinga, Homo Ludens

Always the fear, post-practice - Red-hot
smeared all over your balls.  Starters,
they're the ones who'll do it, linebackers
left back, at least a year too big,
hungry to match the coaching specs.

Those who in and out of scrimmage
hurl their bulk like moral imperatives
into the blocking sled unjustly
weighted down by three unmoved movers,
the barking assistant coaches' heads.

Hustle up for wind-sprints, bear
down in three-point crouch to get
some cleat of praise:  "Your name son?
I like the way you hit."  But when
the molded mouthguards float in locker

pools of salivated sweat, itís something
altogether different.  Between
the steamy shower and the hop-on
athlete's foot dispenser, hidden
in a wadded towel that may or may

not mean more comradely whipcracking
horseplay - the can of Red-hot lifted
from the trainerís bag.  The spoil-sport
is the coward who must be eliminated
from the game.  Or else he must

eject himself.  Ask cheerleaders,
marching band, fans in the bleachers howling;
the pep rally and scored piped to every
classroom.  No way out but unfaked
injury: groin or hamstring shoulder

separation, heroes limp off field
refusing team-mate prop, pain
walked-off, shrugged-off, transformed
to vengeful sack or clip, roughing
excused - all violations impossible

from my place on the bench.  And so
I have to injure myself.  At home I let
the five-pound barbell drop from dresser
down, to smash my propped-up wrist,
unable even to raise a bruise - though later

the unshattered arm begins to throb.
Into the night the soreness stays.
The next day, because it is the Day
of Atonement, my parents make me go
to synagogue, where old men rue

the passing of the time when they
could buy a cock, and by swinging it
around their heads three times and muttering
a prayer, transfer their sins to it.
As the pain subsides, displaced by

fasting pangs, I realize I'll have to make
a story up, borrow my mother's old
ace bandage and talk my sister
into binding up my wrist, succumbing
to the strains and dislocations and

the succor of the Kol Nidre, forgiving
us again from debt and contractual
obligation.  A young optometrist
plays the fiddle.  And the engineer's
widow with the trained voice sings.

Leonard Kress

If you've any comments on this poem, Leonard Kress would be pleased to hear from you.

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