In my son’s wide eyes I can see
the steeple of the church we left
after one too many dirty looks —
mosquito bites that you can’t scratch
and soothe — when we couldn’t shush him
and I can see him playing
all afternoon with a vacuum cleaner
and gazing out the window with wonder
at the gray power lines
while all the other kids
smeared cake on their faces
and ran through the sprinkler
at another birthday party
that he didn’t get invited to
and on his breath I can smell the mustard
that smothered his french fries tonight like
the hot dogs we bought at the ball park
when the summer sun melted him down
made him sputter I don’t need this!
You leave me alone! as the force of his foot
made the hot bleachers shake
and people booed us
—actually fucking booed us—
and we whisked him and his brothers away
without asking for a refund
though we’d only hit the bottom
of the second inning. We couldn’t
face the faces full of judgment of us
and pride over their kids’ home runs.
Some parents just don’t know how
to discipline their kids, said some guy
to his wife. Did I flash them a smile
full of Christ-like compassion?
I didn’t. I couldn’t. But I also didn’t
pray for God to smite them
with a hail of foul balls.
I bit my tongue and spat blood,
head down like a worn-out pitcher
about to be yanked from the mound.
Tom C. Hunley has published poems in South Carolina Review, Southern Indiana Review, Southern Poetry Review, Story South and Smartish Pace_._ What Feels Like Love: New and Selected Poems is forthcoming in 2021 from C&R Press.