Back to Issue Twenty.

running the trap



Football pads strapped on, the two of us trucked
into each other all through summer. We ran three miles

before breakfast, muddied our cleats in the rain,
found islands of bruises floating on our biceps.

We were on the same offensive line—
both undersized but quick—and when we ran

a trap up the gut, I’d pull away from the boy
I lined up against to block whoever bull-rushed you.

I remember how your hair fell over your eyes beneath
your helmet, how we were both still growing into our bodies—

this was before we left for college; before you were stripped
of your scholarship and sentenced without parole.

This was the summer we each broke a finger
and drove the sled with free-weights chained to our hips—

the summer we learned how to listen
for footsteps racing toward us, how to never flinch.


In the dream, a woman
jumps off a building, slips

through the breeze
and comes apart like a comet

entering the atmosphere.
The crowd is pointing up

and I’m running out
trying to catch her

though I know I won’t.
When she hits pavement

I can’t see her face,
can only wake up

wondering why
I didn’t give her wings.


During my lunch break, I walk out onto the Potomac
though the weatherman said spring
is at last hot on our heels. I sip my coffee
and tap the ice with the toe of my boot.
I throw a stone halfway to Virginia.

It’s been a year since I read about the girl
found floating in reeds, and I think again of baby Moses,
how lucky he was to be delivered into safe arms.

I remember reading bungee cords and slashed.
I read boyfriend and then I read your name.


For punishment,
when a player ran his mouth

or didn’t follow orders
our team ran wind sprints

up and down the field
until breathing
felt like swimming,

until the cavities in our chests
And all the while,

coach would stand on the sidelines
pointing at the stampede of boys,

a thick arm around the loudmouth,
the fuck-up,
telling him,
Don’t look away.


That same summer, one by one,
I hauled stones, set them on top of each other.

I brushed away the ivy and leaves,
stacked the heap high, a new wall in my mother’s garden.

Bleeding hearts and phlox in beds, I jammed
rocks that didn’t belong together

together, packed them as tight as I could,
building with pieces I could never precisely fit.


By fall, we ended practice each night with Oklahomas.
The team circled around two boys who were told
not to hold back, to lower their chins and shoulders

and really plow into each other, hurt each other.
In those circles we yelled until we were lightheaded,
roses of smoke rising from our helmets where our

mouths would be. Sometimes, you and I were matched up—
hands dug in the trench, stadium lights lit, bodies aligned—
forced to collide, to hold each other for that instant

of contact before pushing back, one of us dropping.
Afterwards, we took off our helmets and our pads;
we felt the sweat run down our backs, the veins climbing

our forearms like small vines. And how small
we looked then: huddled beneath the November stars
sprayed like shrapnel, perfect in the violet sky.



punk (la vie antérieure)



Small, kept in basements, our voices
          are hard to hear over the cassette’s soft whir,

guitar notes bleeding out, riot of cymbals
          crashing. All summer we practiced, sweat

through our shirts until we stripped; we tore
          the knees out of our Levis to look

like Johnny Ramone and spent nights
          getting lit downtown. The sound of nothing

on the tape is a low drone, rain on water—
          laughter unravels like smoke and is gone.

We could feel ourselves changing
          into something bright and sinister and starry;

we relearned our bodies, their furious constellations.
          When we count off again, listen to how big

we try to make ourselves, how we never
          quite fill the room—power chords feeding back,

the kick drum’s beaten skin—while outside
          birdsong, the heat breaking;

a mute sky turning over until it broke too.


Rob Shapiro is an MFA candidate at the University of Virginia where he was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize. His work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in The Southern ReviewMichigan Quarterly ReviewRiver StyxBlackbird, and The Greensboro Review among other journals. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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