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
Ms. Nikki has the floor.
She tells me,
While holding the broom,
Ex-husband, in jail,
My son, in jail,
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.
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.
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.