Self-portrait before Penalty Kick ||| Prairie Schooner





You are on the line the ref’s whistle opens a cloud opens your stomach
its shrill is something you swallow a silence opens like a door and on
the other side are one thousand closed mouths in aluminum bleachers
in blankets and gloves unlike yours which you haven’t washed in
months coated in spit sticked grip the line is white freshly painted the
paint’s rubbed off on the sides of your cleats like dusted chalk you
touch each post and the cross bar ceremoniously you stare at the ball
and the hips behind lined up to kick the second person’s never felt
more appropriate on the board the clock’s stopped digits redder than
an exit no one moves you don’t move you’re not even here unfolding
the clouds overhead like clean sheets and the words from the radio
this morning stuck inside your mouth what were they telling you by
the bleachers and is she here she has hair the color of cinnamon
maybe she’s here and still but not like you your stillness is calm your
stillness has a river of piranhas in its stomach eyes combustible and
on you and you’re quiet and your next move no one knows your eyes
move away from you your eyes don’t move this line is a goal this line
is not time you’ve stopped you’ve not stopped time but it has stopped
this ball on the spot your body on the line focus isn’t focus it’s a
magnifying glass and louder than a whistle you’re stone you’re wall
you’re blown open this body these fingers dive you’re right the field is
hard below you didn’t know the sky was above was hard and empty.





James Ciano holds an MFA from New York University and has been awarded scholarships from the Vermont Studio Center and The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. His poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Prairie Schooner, jubilat, The Carolina Quarterly, and The Literary Review. Originally from New York, he lives and works in Los Angeles, California. “Self- portrait before a Penalty Kick” originally appeared in Prairie Schooner‘s Winter, 2015 issue.


“Watch Your Step, Please” and “Spilt” appear in TLR: Granary.