to the football coaches of Clemson College, 1942 One dot Grainily shifting we at roadside and The smallest wings coming along the rail fence out Of the woods one dot of all that green. It now Becomes flesh-crawling then the quite still Of stinging. I must live faster for my terrified Small son it is on him. Has come. Clings. Old wingback, come To life. If your knee action is high Enough, the fat may fall in time God damn You, Dickey, dig this is your last time to cut And run but you must give it everything you have Left, for screaming near your screaming child is the sheer Murder of California traffic: some bee hangs driving Your child Blindly onto the highway. Get there however Is still possible. Long live what I badly did At Clemson and all of my clumsiest drives For the ball all of my trying to turn The corner downfield and my spindling explosions Through the five-hole over tackle. O backfield Coach Shag Norton, Tell me as you never yet have told me To get the lead out scream whatever will get The slow-motion of middle age off me I cannot Make it this way I will have to leave My feet they are gone I have him where He lives and down we go singing with screams into The dirt, Son-screams of fathers screams of dead coaches turning To approval and from between us the bee rises screaming With flight grainily shifting riding the rail fence Back into the woods traffic blasting past us Unchanged, nothing heard through the air- conditioning glass we lying at roadside full Of the forearm prints Of roadrocks strawberries on our elbows as from Scrimmage with the varsity now we can get Up stand turn away from the highway look straight Into trees. See, there is nothing coming out no Smallest wing no shift of a flight-grain nothing Nothing. Let us go in, son, and listen For some tobacco- mumbling voice in the branches to say “That’s a little better,” to our lives still hanging By a hair. There is nothing to stop us we can go Deep deeper into elms, and listen to traffic die Roaring, like a football crowd from which we have Vanished. Dead coaches live in the air, son live In the ear Like fathers, and urge and urge. They want you better Than you are. When needed, they rise and curse you they scream When something must be saved. Here, under this tree, We can sit down. You can sleep, and I can try To give back what I have earned by keeping us Alive, and safe from bees: the smile of some kind Of savior— Of touchdowns, of fumbles, battles, Lives. Let me sit here with you, son As on the bench, while the first string takes back Over, far away and say with my silentest tongue, with the man- creating bruises of my arms with a live leaf a quick Dead hand on my shoulder, “Coach Norton, I am your boy.”
From Poems 1957-1967 (Wesleyan University Press) by James Dickey. Copyright © 1967 by James Dickey. Used with permission of Wesleyan University Press.