Playgrounds can be sources of great fun. They can also be fraught. A child may fall off the “monkey bars” or zip down the slide too quickly. Dangers can lurk there: Bullies, loose gravel, an animal, a pushed swing. A ball may go astray. Barbara Eaton, facilitator of the West Suburban Chapter of the Illinois State Poetry Society and long-time contest chair for Poets and Patrons of Chicago, was the final judge. She picked “Noontime Softball” as first place:
My school lunchroom
was almost empty.
The other kids had gone
outside to play.
I finished eating
and carried my tray
to the counter.
The lady there
called me “slowpoke”.
Some boys and girls
had started a ball game.
They knew my reputation —
the girl who swings at everything
and always misses.
Three strikes and you’re out!
But that day was different.
The ball flew all the way
to the schoolhouse door.
The one with a window in it.
Leaving the bat behind,
I went to tell the principal
how I’d broken the window.
I was sure I’d be punished.
Mr. Blackman seemed impressed.
He told me,
“That glass was supposed to be
~ Deetje J. Wildes
The second place poem happened at a playground visited by a family as they traveled. The judge especially liked the ending of this poem:
Two Girls with Gila Monster
Look at us. You, knobby kneed
in halter top and shorts. Your ribs,
small ridges like a bird’s skeleton.
My blue jeans, cinched at the waist by a belt
with a silver buckle and cuffed to six inches,
balloon like genie pants. Roy Rogers
rides a rearing Trigger stamped
on the bandana around my neck.
I was shorter than you, then.
You peer sideways from beneath your bangs,
pretending to be the innocent after a morning
spent poking and pinching me and glaring
mean thoughts at me, before you threw
Timothy Tom Treadford out the car window.
Daddy backtracked miles to rescue my bear.
We are on our way to California.
Daddy’s looking for work.
It’s July and hot.
We stand on dry, stone-spattered ground.
At noon we ate dust-flecked Wonder Bread
and Bologna sandwiches—a road-trip picnic—
from the trunk of the car parked
on a summer-abandoned playground.
We might be in Arizona.
That’s a Gila monster in the cage behind us.
You can see its pointy tail and a leathery hind leg.
The sign warns “STAY BACK 3 FEET.”
I squint straight into the lens.
I am one brave little cowpoke.
~ Gillian Nevers
The third place poem takes u back to the more traditional playground – the kind I love because I’ve always loved to swing. But we don't stay on the playground long.
Espresso Angel Food Cake
The swing splintered and broke into pieces,
the thud of wood on bone concussing with a force
that left me spinning. Voices cracked like fragments
of leaves beneath the faded blue of an October sky.
I was eight and recess was an explosion.
When the swing went high in the air, I thought
it possible to run and duck before it swung back.
Instead, my head fell off.
Water roared in my ears. The sky was falling.
When I awakened, Mother was sitting next to me.
It was hard to hear so she showed me my head
in the mirror. It looked lumpy and swollen.
I leaned back on a goose-feathered pillow, watched
the dark come down, the moon just starting to rise.
It reminded me of Goodnight Moon, my favorite book.
I felt special in the quiet, just Mother and me.
A sweet smell wafted from the kitchen, subtle like sunshine
through a gauze curtain, and I knew it was morning.
The scent of Mother’s coffee stirred the air too.
I remembered the swing, and the hurting, and the dark,
only now the dark was swirls of chocolate in a cake so light
it could fly. Mother was making Espresso Angel Food Cake
to help me feel better. I closed my eyes, imagined angels
winging their way to my bedside even as I fell asleep.
~ Mary Jo Balistreri
These three poets own copyright on their own poems.
Mary Jo Balistreri remembers the incident described in her poem as if it were yesterday. For her, it is one of the joys of poetry that we can write about our memories, and how the words help us give voice to the emotions we felt, the small details that make it present. For more information, please visit maryjobalistreripoet.com.
Gillian Nevers, Madison, Wisconsin, is a prize winning poet who still seeks out school playgrounds for picnic lunches on summer road trips.
In addition to writing poetry, Deetje J. Wildes enjoys making music and experimenting with visual arts. She is an enthusiastic member of Western Wisconsin Christian Writers Guild, and a regular contributor to Faith Walk magazine (Eau Claire, Wisconsin Leader—Telegram).
Thank you to those who shared their playground experiences.
Check back in a few days for the February Poetry Challenge
© Wilda Morris