Frank Wagner: A New Poem

Frank Wagner sends his poems to the Howe blog from his home in Texas. He’s a retired radio newsman.

Going Home After Basketball

By Frank Wagner

Going home after basketball practice
meant walking home in the dark.
During those months,
after the thrill of
starting school in the
steaming heat of late summer,
the air, the land and the water,
if you could see,
were always dark.
We could see our steps
on the side of the street
by the shine from the street lamps
that flickered and buzzed
every few feet
from the post.
We hadn’t had enough and
held the round ball sometimes,
dribbled it
passed it around,
sometimes, but
always in the dark.
We saw the ball only
as a round shadow
in the dark, and cold wet air.
A few of the lights were on
down the street at the
shopping center where
mothers were getting something
quick for supper or an old man
spending his last nickels
on the cheap wine.
That was on the way for us,
while we sometimes
held, dribbled or passed the
round ball in the dark,
always certain and careful to
make sure we did not
bounce it on broken glass,
last night’s beer bottles
tossed from car windows.
This night, like many others,
the darkness was disrupted when
cop cars circled around us,
red lights atop flashing red,
flashlights lit and wielded
like they were deadly weapons.
My face was their target
for this bright beam of light, and
behind it came the voice
from the man in blue:
“What are you doing here
with this bunch?”
“Going home from basketball practice,”
was my too innocent answer.
“Well, you better watch out
for this bunch.” He warned with
his faithful partner
standing in the dark behind him.
“They can get you in a lot of trouble.”
They drove away,
maybe there was a wreck,
probably a shooting at
Esperanza’s Lounge,
or a stabbing on
Sam Rankin Street.
We were safe for now,
and walked on home
still in the dark,
the whole dark way.
That bunch, the ones I was walking with,
while going home
from basketball practice
never did much wrong.
I was the one who,
lacking all notable knowledge and skills,
who dreamed how great it’d be
if I was a petty thief.