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James Viggiano


The gnats hit my wind screen the same way

they hit my mouth on the ball field as a child.

The gnats manage to get into your eye sockets,

in the pink between the white ball and your brain.

Running down the baseline, they’re pulled into each breath,

caught between your gums and speed.

The smell of cut grass lingered in the outfield

under flood lights. I smell it through the countryside

going 80 carried by gnats. I pass defunct ball fields

in two syllable townships on numbered highways

rolling off the throttle to wave.

Fathers teach sons the pillars of baseball:

focus, power, and speed.

Keep your eye on the ball,

Dad said, over and over again.

Now he reminds me how to live

watching the planes take off from the airstrip

over the chain link fence near the Dairy Queen.

He likes ice cream on his birthday.

It gives him power. Every year,

since his cancer-timeouts,

is a blessing.

I’m getting to know the man.

Shame, it took 30 years.


At the end

Of the year

People tell stories

Of themselves.

Ms. Nikki has the floor.

She tells me,

While holding the broom,

Ex-husband, in jail,

Capital murder,

My son, in jail,

Capital murder,


On drugs,

On the streets.

They tested the baby,

Cocaine, heroin, marijuana

At birth. Ms. Nikki, 55 years old,

Has custody. She tells me more

Heartbreak than I’ve heard in months.

She escaped

Her ex-boyfriend,

The beatings,


The kick to her chest.

My classroom overlooks

Main street, the sunrise, the church

Tower over thick trees, growing

Up and around and through the houses,

Where property values remain low.

The pockets of ghetto hold

The horror stories

Ms. Nikki tells.

She sweeps the room,

Its old wooden floors,

Getting them ready for wax,

At the end

Of another year.

Mi Amor

Hair black like her brown like her

eyes like Cafecito Cubano,

coming to me in sips from tasitas

the color of pastel Easter eggs.

She dosed my café with azúcar

by the spoonful though

I tried resistance,

against the sweetness,

was futile. I replaced all my addictions

with coffee and running.

She gave me my heroin, black as tar

as sticky as marriage, as thick as family

as if I could ever let go; I’d be without the love

of my life and what is a life without love,

like morning without coffee,

black as her hair.


James will complete his MA at Saint Leo University next year as he continues to teach 8th grade English in an urban Alabama middle school. His work can found in The Sandhill Review and forthcoming MidLvlMag. He lives with his fiancé and dog, and tries to grow vegetables.


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