I heard the game was tough, and they lost,
despairing in muddy jerseys,
turf jutting from face guards and heavy cleats.
Sweat-stained and sore, they showered,
and the camaraderie of the locker room
broke through the stern silence with boyish laughter.
Weekend plans made, they climbed into the chartered bus
and drove slowly through the misty night
to the airport, to go home, back to West Virginia.
The plane gleamed reassuringly, like technology always does.
The power of the lift, the whine of competent engines
flinging them into the clouds, driving them high beyond the storm
into the clear, star-filled night. But the flight was rough, and
nearing their goal, it happened; a jolting shudder,
surprised looks, and amid the confusion of savage g-forces
suddenly nothing remained but flames
and twisted metal
on the charred mountain.
This is when I first became acquainted with death.
These were my friends, my old team-mates;
two years before we jogged in the hot August sun
and ranged through snowy October backfields;
like dangerous tigers we hunted quarterbacks,
thinking we were forever young and strong
Jack Rapasy, Bob Harris, and Mark Andrews:
Jack was the joker, but he could catch a bullet
six feet over his head, and leave two defenders
to slam into each other as they met, mid –air,
where he was,
while he ambled smiling to the end-zone.
And Bob could throw that bullet, his baby-face
And million dollar smile belying muscle-thick arms,
rocket launchers, splitting Friday nights with their fire.
But Mark, gentle giant of a linesman, was like my
big brother; he taught me how to shift and pull and trap,
and admired my fierce tackle, my willingness
to sacrifice clarity to stop a power-sweep.
We grew up together, but Mark died far from home.
Their three caskets in our high school gym lay,
while I, staring at glaring metal,
stood silent and amazed
that never would they run,
or throw, or tackle, or smile, or laugh,
or again be.