Sestina: The Kickoff

The moment just before the kickoff
is a moment of grave tectonic stress,
the forces of muscle and adrenaline
pressing dangerously against stopped time.
The kicker measures his steps, raises his hand
and the plates begin to slide, break loose,

the small explosion of the kick lost in the loosed
power of charging, churning men. The kickoff
arcs high, hangs, falls toward one still player whose raised hand
now reaches to catch; he drops to his knee, the stress
broken for the moment, no miracle this time,
clash and crash averted, players awash in post-adrenaline

rush. They live this: a roller-coaster of adrenaline,
the kicker and the returner, two soloists set loose
outside the structure, holding the two ends of time,
suspended on opposite sides of the kickoff.
The kick-returner watches, waits in a vortex of stress,
the wild hope, the oft-dashed glory, the decision always at hand

to run for it, run behind his team—some of them actually hold hands,
a sort of nightmare Red Rover, 1200 pounds of adrenaline-
soaked linemen advancing together as if to stress
the sweet camaraderie of sports—or better yet, break loose,
somehow blast free and fly, carry the kickoff
all the way back, quicker than everyone, quicker than time.

And the kicker has his tension, too, his time
of expectation, doubt and certainty, the hand
raised when all the stars align, each kickoff
a fulmination of focused practice, perfection and adrenaline
joined in physical skill, everything let loose
in one swift swing and lift, and the force and stress

of impact send flying that burden, the ball, the stress
it stands for now transferred to the others for a time,
while he, still primed and hot, must wait and watch, stay loose,
the import of his one brief act out of his hands
if all goes as planned, but ready for the adrenaline
to kick back in if the returner, run amok, runs his kickoff

back, wild in the stress of the chase, the kicker’s hand
the last to catch his collar, just in time, down him, adrenaline
already shaking loose the impact, shaping, too, the forces, for the next kickoff.

Since it’s football season, I thought I’d post a suitable work. This poem first appeared in The Texas Review, Vol. XXIV, Nos. 3 & 4, Fall/Winter 2003. I enjoy the fond fantasy that this is the only sestina in existence on the subject of American football. — Oh, but now everyone will be wanting to write one!

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