My mother had a secret romance
with Roger Staubach, quarterback
for the Dallas Cowboys, two-time
Super Bowl champion, and 1978
NFL Man of the Year. Sundays were devoted
to 11:00 mass and then Roger on TV, the second
more significant and boisterous in our family
room, where, when we were younger, my brothers
and I had dutifully performed the manger scene
at Christmas, or for a short time,
used Ritz crackers and a beer mug
to dispense Holy Communion.
My mother’s praise fed us.
When the camera panned cheerleaders
shaking their shiny pom-poms, Howard Cosell
welcomed us to another showdown.
My brothers sprawled all arms and legs
across the shag carpeting, while our
parents claimed the couch, my father
with a bologna sandwich and a bag of
Ballreich’s on the coffee table, my mother
straightbacked, her stiff hair
like a helmet. Protect the quarterback
she shouted at signs of a blitz and I
watched the scramble, the crush
of bodies. The willful antagonism
of her hero dodging linebackers,
his nimble feet like a dancer, counting
on his team to be where they should. She hated
Terry Bradshaw which is to say she
hated anyone who hurt her man. Roger
is taking a beating
my father noted. She shot him
the glare, Don’t underestimate the man.
I never knew who to root for at any given time
though loyalty to my mother had rewards.
Tension built, both her joy and disgust, depending
on the actions of someone
she’d never know, like me
in the pew on Holy Thursday wishing
Jesus would say he wasn’t the one
they were looking for and knowing
he wouldn’t dare deny
his biggest win.

And Still It Comes Back

It used to be the turnpike hill after dinner. A hole
in the fence behind Jezak’s house, the careful crawl
between barbs—then up, to tall grass and lean
halfway between highway and our front yard.
I could see it all from there: black shingled roofs,
green manicured lawns, Helen Jezak squatting
in double knit shorts, digging dandelions. My mother
on the stoop of the two story, streetlights
starting to come on. I sat there, knees to chin,
imagined myself brave enough to never
go back down. Picked a slow caterpillar off
my leg. The highway behind me full of noise.
A blast of smoke from a semi, honks his horn,
wave, duck behind, you can’t be seen. The lights
would be coming on in the living room. I can see
my father walk toward the kitchen. Sit down.
Light a cigarette. They are waiting for me.
When I come in through the garage my mother
will say so there you are. Peel back my fingers
from a fist, caterpillar, say Let it go now.