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A Boy Juggling a Soccer Ball

Christopher Merrill
   after practice: right foot
to left foot, stepping forward and back, 
   to right foot and left foot,
and left foot up to his thigh, holding 
   it on his thigh as he twists
around in a circle, until it rolls 
   down the inside of his leg,
like a tickle of sweat, not catching 
   and tapping on the soft
side of his foot, and juggling
   once, twice, three times,
hopping on one foot like a jump-roper 
   in the gym, now trapping
and holding the ball in midair, 
   balancing it on the instep
of his weak left foot, stepping forward 
   and forward and back, then
lifting it overhead until it hangs there; 
   and squaring off his body,
he keeps the ball aloft with a nudge 
   of his neck, heading it
from side to side, softer and softer, 
   like a dying refrain,
until the ball, slowing, balances 
   itself on his hairline,
the hot sun and sweat filling his eyes 
   as he jiggles this way
and that, then flicking it up gently, 
   hunching his shoulders
and tilting his head back, he traps it 
   in the hollow of his neck,
and bending at the waist, sees his shadow, 
   his dangling T-shirt, the bent
blades of brown grass in summer heat; 
   and relaxing, the ball slipping
down his back. . .and missing his foot.

   He wheels around, he marches 
over the ball, as if it were a rock
   he stumbled into, and pressing
his left foot against it, he pushes it
   against the inside of his right 
until it pops into the air, is heeled
   over his head--the rainbow!-- 
and settles on his extended thigh before
   rolling over his knee and down 
his shin, so he can juggle it again
   from his left foot to his right foot
—and right foot to left foot to thigh—
   as he wanders, on the last day
of summer, around the empty field.

From Motion: American Sports Poems, edited by Noah Blaustein. Copyright © 2001 by Christopher Merrill. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Christopher Merrill

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