If you attend the game just once in a while, you don’t know where to set your chair. Lately, by which I mean for years, all ordinary talk is strained, a habit maintained in faith that artlessness exists. The other parents are nice, but from me, that sounds like mockery. The violet I pick from the grass is an embarrassed violet. Mosquitoes conduct bloodwork. The air a rippled pond, cheers intersecting. On the field, a flock and heretics: a scrum around the edge of the box, and one boy walking backwards toward the goal, and one girl willing the ball to leap toward her, there on the edge of belief. Don’t think of communication as transmission, a spatial relay of messages, but as ritual, a ceremony uniting the twilight congregation. Home shirts shine. My clapping is confused. I don’t know the rules, when to call out and how that pulls at the net inside the child, puts pride in his limp. In a poem’s meadow, though, words go to seed. Listen: the neighbors shout on my behalf, and then turn to me and smile. They can think whatever they think; it’s probably kind. I’m their welcome interloper. You be mine. Just wipe that gnat from your eye and sit down here. I can act like a normal person while you stroke my imaginary dog. His fur is so soft and he really likes you.

LESLEY WHEELER’s poetry collections are The Receptionist and Other Tales, a Tiptree Award Honor Book; Heterotopia, winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize; Heathen; and the forthcoming Radioland (2015). Her poems and essays appear in Subtropics, Gettysburg Review, and Poetry, and she blogs about poetry at lesleywheeler.org. Wheeler is the Henry S. Fox Professor of English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.