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Jess Williard


When he said he could believe
in something closer

to what she believes in,
and because of her,

he meant because. Not for.
And in the breath

after that truth
there the both of them are

on a turf field in August.
It's sweltering,

the the first practice
of the season in pads.

Someone lets off
and pops his solar plexus

with the crown
of their helmet. Whatever

crawls out of the face
mask next leaves another

truth sputtering
on his tongue,

this an imperative: 
give me your hand.

He stumbles to a shaded
medical tent. He leans

over an orange
cooler. He swears

under his breath.
There's a child a handful

of miles away for whom
he is responsible.

He knows this. There's a deity 
floating somewhere

in-between for whom
he is not. He pulls the helmet

back over his head
and charges across the field

to make a promise
of the waiting

and thoughtless ribcage
below the dreaming head

of a man.


American Football


As soon as he said linebacker I found myself assessing his frame, then my own. Fingering the divots at my hip through sweat-thinned fabric, I imagined I’d find something more through his. It was right, made sense: he was the kind of big that wasn’t there until you thought about it. I was traveling, he was living, the rainy season changed the way we thought about summer every half- hour; heavy mist bent mornings halfway back to dreams; the President had just begun his second term. But there’s always a better way of telling it, and proximity has it’s own chronology: Before head-leading tackles were deemed too dangerous for play he was given a scholarship. The kind of biographical fold that makes a destination of a body, its ancient alleys steeped in the sheen of being walked through for centuries, the curtained bazaar an economy of chatter and sacred exchanges a bright plaza where there’s always something to admire and nothing costs too much. From a sun-caught balcony above the docks a girl admires herself in the reflection of a windshield pulling slowly past, a car with the passenger window rolled down enough for me to lean out and catch her momentary gaze in the trap of a cellphone. This is what I left with. But there’s even less, now. I’ve become the shape of what I miss. I’m touching stranger’s hips for signs of the positions they’ll play. As soon as he said linebacker I thought of how you can go somewhere you’ve never been and feel at home there. And how a lumbering bloodline can make entire inches of you less plausible. Still the girl is puckering her lips at dusk-lighted glass with curtains billowed at her back. Still they push carts of vegetables and fish to the square at dawn, trading their wares for whatever’s worth it. Still I jump the play count and am given away.


Jess Williard is the author of Unmanly Grief (University of Arkansas Press, 2019). His poems have most recently appeared in DIAGRAM, The Gettysburg Review, Poetry Northwest, Cumberland River Review, and North American Review. He is from Wisconsin.


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