Maypoles were candy in the hands of girls,
heady with perfume in the breeze
relentless from the west. All spring,
the crushing weight of church
sent us home while classmates danced.

Fridays after scrimmage were best,
bloodied, trudging victorious
to the locker room, hugged by jiggly classmates
in cheerleading miniskirts, oh Susan, Lou Ann,
almost like dancing. No April fool

ever felt that good. Dogma said don't smoke,
don't dance, wait till you're twenty five
with a bride. Weekends, my brother and I
slammed posthole diggers down,
down to China, a wonder oil didn't gush.

We proved the ranch was dirt,
hardpan and cactus. We snapped the tails
off rattlesnakes and fed them headless to hogs,
strapping the rattles to our saddles.
After the last touchdown and laps

of spring practice, we soaped and sang
in the showers, loud butt-popping towels
and howls. Who could wait for fall football,
the real thing? Beyond the stalls,
cheerleaders huddled, giggling,

speaking in tongues about us,
knowing we showered ten feet away
with our cleats and jock straps off,
shampoo in our eyes and shouting,
steamy as stallions in the barn.

Walt McDonald


Mother taught tumbling in college,
coached my brothers and me to tuck and roll
before we stopped waddling, the bold McDonald boys
she thought would be her fortune.

My older brothers starred in high school
but joined the army after Pearl Harbor.
By junior high, I forgot most moves she taught.
My mother abandoned gyms and mats

when both her boys came back.
She studied nursing, changed beds
in V.A. hospitals after the war,
healed or eased whatever she could,

and cleaned the rest. On double shifts most days,
she wrote letters for men who couldn't talk,
who did amazing tricks to please her,
enduring all their shots, pulling up

by one hand on the bar above the bed,
wobbling as long as they could, off balance
but breathing, before letting go and falling
off the highest beam in the world.

Walt McDonald
WALT McDONALD was a pilot in the Air Force and served as Texas Poet Laureate for 2001. Some of his recent books are All Occasions (University of Notre Dame Press, 2000), Blessings the Body Gave and The Flying Dutchman (Ohio State, 1998, 1987), Counting Survivors (Pittsburgh, 1995), Night Landings (Harper & Row, 1989), and After the Noise of Saigon (Massachusetts, 1988).  His poems have been in journals including American Poetry Review, The American Scholar, The Atlantic Monthly,  London Review of Books, New York Review of Books, Poetry, and TriQuarterly.