The top out of view, p.1
THE TOP OUT OF VIEW
Copyright 2013 James Carlo
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Top Out of View
On the Seven-Man
Scouting at Homecoming
Coaching Clinic 2
Coach on Gameday
Away Game Arrival
Upon Trailing at Halftime
Full of Grace
Cry of the Zebra
On the Night of a Win
Coach at Rest
Reflection on a Ten and One Year
About the Author
American high school football is woven into the fabric of our country's culture. In one sense it is only a game, a showcase for players' skills, a Friday night diversion, an energizing community-unifying activity.
But beneath the froth lies something deeper, and it shows itself in more subtle ways. It is high school ball as process, as incubator, as revealer.
That side of the game can be worth a closer look.
In a series of short, free verse, narrative poems, writer James Carlo, a high school coach for more than four decades, draws from his experiences to highlight another part of high school football, the one that lies just out of view.
The Top Out of View
Through the years the hill does not change.
The ruts left behind by teams that climbed beyond limits
still weave their strange way to the top out of view.
The hill became personal
in the late preseasons of my early twenties
spent conditioning high school football players
on its bare slopes.
Mornings ended climbing against the clock.
Each of us coaches took his offensive group.
Our angles were violent.
The hill stretched brown dirt into the blue of the sky.
When we thought we were there
one incline always remained.
It sucked our last breath and made dust of the world
--a sightless struggle—
guided by shouts up ahead from those who were near.
One night the team woke at midnight
and climbed in the dark
until we stood at the top looking over a city,
eucalyptus breeze against our face;
silhouettes linked against August stars.
That team is long scattered now.
Some players successes, others adrift.
But the hill stays the same,
climbed on dark midnights again and again.
He was sure he’d go out ‘til he got there
and heard the loud voices past locker room doors
where the coaches stood shouting while issuing gear.
All summer he’d eagerly waited
for the season to finally arrive.
He had known that he wanted to play.
Now, though, it was suddenly not crucial.
He was a sophomore, he still had two years.
That would be plenty of time.
Some seniors passed him close by.
Their looks made him make up his mind.
He went back out to the car at the curb
where his father sat smoking, waiting;
the end of another long day.
I’ve changed my mind said the boy,
opening the passenger door.
I’m going to wait for a year.
His father looked at him a minute
as the boy’s eyes darted away.
He stubbed his cigarette into the ashtray.
No you’re not, he said, getting out.
We'll go back together.
cut hair mingled blond black brown red
shiny curling still alive
on the floor where the haircuts had been.
we swept it up and buried it
in the middle of the practice field,
a private sacrifice ritual.
once the cutting was done
each player had swiped his hand over the bristles
and swallowing doubt declared: i like it.
what choice did any of them have
when wherever they looked
they saw only themselves?
His lungs exploded in his head.
Sour lava raged up his throat and down again.
His jaws convulsed in great ragged gasps,
his fleshy hands grasped bent knees
(don’t puke don’t puke five more to go.)
His eyes, squeezed tight, saw the pizza.
Stand up! barked the coach, from very near.
Don’t hunch down like a dog doing dirt!
There was a wrong noise on the practice field.
One player shouting he’d had enough—
enough pressure, enough verbal abuse,
enough of every coach out there.
He stalked off hot.
I followed him in.
He was a big kid.
What’s wrong? I asked.
Coach, I’m nothing to you, am I? he answered,
looking me in the eye.
I bet you don’t even know my first name.
It’s Tom, right?
That set him back.
Well, I feel like a number or something, he said.
Don’t take practice personal, I told him.
We don’t mean anything out there personal.
We’re just trying to get people to push past themselves,
To get to where we know they can go.
Well, he replied, eyeing me closely,
maybe I just lost my cool.
It’s okay, Tom, we all do.
He tugged his cleats back on and went back out.
I thought to myself how glad I was
to have saved this boy from dropping out.
And how glad I was I had asked somebody
what his name was
before I had followed him in.
On the Seven-Man
The cold, old, monster,
with its triple-stitched, thick-seamed vinyl
stretched over steel-spined pads angled forward,
and its banshee-screech, spring-loaded pistons
poised to punish bad blocks
with their own doubled recoil,
is up next.
From his precarious perch on the sled’s iron rails
a coach rants at the awkward ineptness
and unwitting head-drops.
But when all seven linemen do strike together
so that the rattle-bolt relic leaps back a yard,
the mocking tone changes to one word:
--and sudden group triumph prevails.
In that early firs
(in my young way)
behind the back of the fool who came out
with barely the skills to hold up a blocking dummy,
who never had played, would not ever play much,
who knew it, but still chose to go through the ordeal.
Chose to go through it and paid every price asked,
lifted all summer, attended all meetings,
put up with my sarcasm,
stood on the sidelines, stayed up in practice
with no word of complaint, just support for his team.
That same player’s been there every season I’ve coached.
His face and name change of course,
but he’s still the one from that very first year,
enduring, intent, belonging, unselfish
--so patiently teaching me football.
I was running a drill for offensive linemen:
three lines paired up with the next one behind,
working on footwork, eyes up, and leg drive,
the day bright, grass long, heat shimmering upward.
One player four back in the line in the middle
let out a cry and rang zigzag ten yards,
jumped in the air hands grabbing his helmet
then plunged to the ground and rolled kicking his legs.
Neil I said what the hell are you doing?
Get back in line stop being a clown.
He wrestled the helmet off with an effort.
Bee flew in my earhole, he cried with a gasp.
Oh, we laughed about that when I saw him one Christmas.
Christ that was funny, he said tears in his eyes.
Funniest yet, coach, I’d dream of that bee after me
Most nights I spent on patrol out in 'Nam.”
Scouting at Homecoming
Six skinny cheerleaders
in transfixed grins and not enough skirt
kicked to the theme of A Fistful of Dollars
whistling through speakers that buzzed on all high notes.
The floats glided bedraggled as they circled the track
made of tissue carnations taped onto truck flatbeds
that jerkily rolled past the stands.
The court stood in a row at the fifty.
Princesses hid hope as the countdown began
until only one girl, eyes brimming with tears,
(a camera’s white flash a brief star in the crowd.)
was handed long-stemmed red roses by a tall stooping boy.
The other scout came back carting cold coffee
and two cadaverous hot dogs in week-old buns.
He looked at the field and the red carpet re-rolling.
“Oh no! Did I miss it?” he laughed with a bite.
Coaching Clinic 2
Frank Leahy was called to the podium.
Yes, that Frank Leahy, of 40’s coaching fame.
He was one of the legends; we were all caught surprised
when they announced he was there to be introduced.
He was helped up the steps by two
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