Down the Street

by Fred Longworth
The Waters
First Place, January 2013
Judged by Deborah Bogen

The kite slings upward into the wind,
and for a moment the two boys shout
like pole vaulters clearing a higher bar.
Then it dives hard toward the grass,
and the boys look her way because they want
to holler things she would scold them
for saying. And faintly out of somewhere
only she can go, she hears two pairs of shoes
crunching caramel-colored sycamore leaves
along a riparian trail. One runner chases
the other, and she can feel the hammers
of their legs against the anvils of the path,
and taste their salty newborn sweat.
She marshals her mind back to the yard
and to the plastic laundry basket
on the table by the dryer, with its molting
cotton towels and wrinkled garments
that she’s been folding and unfolding,
and folding and unfolding again,
so that the boys won’t think she’s watching.
And in a part of town she never goes to,
the father of the boys retreats
to a barstool farthest from the jukebox
with its chance encounters, and closest
to a nook of shadows. He licks the salt
from the rim of a cocktail glass,
and wonders if he has the gumption
to go home, or resign himself
to sleeping on the sofa at the office.
As he taps his fingers on his mobile phone,
miles away a second phone is waiting—.
Maybe it will join the first in voice,
or share with it the void of silence.
The liquidambar trees are dancing,
and the boys are running with their string.
The wind is picking up, and the kite
will either lift off, or it won’t.

"Down the Street" brings to mind a Hopper painting with its dark vision of American family life, or perhaps lack-of-family life. Reading the three scenes [the boy’s kite run, the mother’s clothes folding and the father’s drinking] I was struck by the feeling that although nothing is working quite right in the relationships portrayed, there remains a connected dis-connectedness among the players. The closing lines are perfect – a truism that you cannot argue with, but one that gives no comfort. --Deborah Bogen