In 1950, I could play in the middle
of the intersection of Hinman Avenue
and Sixth Street beneath streetlight
without fear of the occasional car
smashing into me. A motley troop
of us gathered there nightly, mindful
of our father’s strict curfews.
The intersection became a battlefield
where we played kick the can,
hide and seek.
The leader, a skinny, black boy,
who sometimes smelled of oranges,
shuffled us from one activity to another.
We envied a football hero from Fourth Street
whose log-thick neck made our necks
look like toothpicks. A puffy-faced girl
we called Pinky often drifted into our midst.
The cleanest thing that Jasper owned
was his sweatband. We all knew
about his parents’ neglect, but never
mentioned or joked about it. And then
there was the blond, lakeshore boy
whose folks owned a second residence
at Buckeye Lake, and who claimed
he hated being near water except
for his bath. His green eyes glittered
the color of frog skin.
We were words in the text of night,
playing comradeship more than games
owning a small piece of the neighborhood
and handsful of hunger to win.