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Ragamuffins in Lockdown Time

Christine E. Black

Ice Sliders – by SummerHouse Studio Art

I want to be the child
In my neighborhood,
Kicking a ball down a wet street,
Dirty snow and ice crusting cars,
Paint-chipped wagon
And a pile of bikes in the yard,
His little brother
And a gang of more children,
Trailing behind. One bangs a stick
On the ground, all their clear
Brown faces shine, eyes dance
In the cold. His immune system
Wrestles earnestly, playfully
With wondrous germs of the air,
And on the skin of his little brother,
In the slobber of the dog,
The grime on the ball
From the corner of the basement
Next to the crumple
Of his father’s work clothes,
His mother’s nurse’s aide uniform,
Blood splattered on a sleeve.

I want to be their parents,
Gathering at a neighbor’s house
For Holy Communion.
They made a hand-lettered
Church sign for the yard,
Invited the priest to hold Mass
In the living room
For all the neighbors.
And after taking the body and blood,
Those words made flesh
By breath and speech,
I kiss an old aunt, press my cheek
To hers, smell her hair and skin,
Remembered from childhood.
My breath deepens, quiets the cells,
Bathes them in strength and health.

I want to be one of the Boys and Girls
Club children, still driven
To the closed school
Because her mother has to go work
At the chicken factory each day.
The mask they make the girl wear
Drags her chin while she plays
With twenty or so other children
In the abandoned school gym
Or outside behind the vacant building.
She sits in the grass across from a friend,
Clapping patterns, telling stories,
Their caretaker, reading her phone.

I want to be one of the children,
Following behind their father,
Who can’t have them inside
One more day this winter, playing
Video games, watching TV.
They head into the trampoline park,
Dark for months, but now somehow
Open, a few cars in the lot.
Inside, high school and college students,
Who have to have the job
Are face-masked seven or eight hours,
Like all the others, delivering Dominoes
Or Grub Hub, waiting tables
In half-capacity restaurants,
Stocking Walmart shelves, scanning,
Bagging at grocery stores, their glasses
Fogging, acne worsening, minds dulled
From low oxygen, wondering what
In the world may happen next.

I want to be a child piled in the family car,
Driving narrow, steep West Virginia roads
To a mountain cabin, where they’ll meet
Maybe a dozen or more family and friends.
Some will forage for mushrooms
Or bow hunt, they’ll tell stories,
Wade in cold streams, build a fire
To cook meat at dusk. I want to be
One of their parents in a sleeping bag
With my husband, by the fire
After everyone else has gone to bed.

Christine E. Black’s work has been published in The American Journal of Poetry, New Millennium Writings, Nimrod International, The Virginia Journal of Education, Friends Journal, Sojourners Magazine, English Journal, Amethyst Review, and other publications. Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the Pablo Neruda Prize.