The top out of view, p.1
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The Top Out of View

  James Carlo

  Copyright 2013 James Carlo

  License Notes.

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you.


  The Top Out of View

  Going Out

  team haircuts


  At Practice

  On the Seven-Man


  The Bee

  Scouting at Homecoming

  Coaching Clinic 2


  Coach on Gameday


  Away Game Arrival



  The Flanker

  A Run

  One Mother

  Upon Trailing at Halftime

  First Stand

  Full of Grace

  Field’s Edge

  Wet Conditions

  Cry of the Zebra

  A Throw


  The Glimpse

  Lord’s Prayer

  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.

  Going Out

  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.

  team haircuts

  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!

  Stand up!

  At Practice

  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
t season of coaching I used to smirk

  (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.

  The Bee

  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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