He drops his hooded warm-up robe
and reveals yellow tights and a flat-top.
He is blond, I think, lean and sinuous.
He moves in slow motion, seems to float,
dances like a boxer with open hands,
evening light behind him, making his hair glow,
in front of a chorus of angels wagging pompoms.
I expected him bearded and barefoot.
I expected someone who might even let me win,
but Jesus is not who I thought he was.
Already sweating at the whistle,
I push and back away,
my tights somehow baggy and riding up.
He does not blink, he sees all I have not learned,
knows before I do where I am weak.
I grab for his ankle or wrist,
grope for a hold around his ribs and miss,
wondering if I should even keep trying.
But I do try, today more than usual,
to score a point, to touch him, even once,
grab onto something, but too soon
I am mouth breathing and spent,
and still he floats out of reach.
It’s over quickly, and without mercy.
The move is called a crucifix
because he spreads my limbs
as he forces my shoulder to the mat.
My coach screams, “crucifix!”
red faced and spitting, reminding me
to throw the long practiced counter-move,
which has often conquered my shadow.
It fails me now.
I lay, crucified, and lose by a fall,
looking through my legs
at the angels who do not hide their disgust.
Jesus smells of talcum.
I leave the mat to the blaring recessional buzzer,
and the coach says without looking at me,
“nice try. He’s a tough one.”
I go to my place on the bench and sit, thinking
there have been times when I doubted my faith,
but it’s hard not to believe in someone
while he’s kicking your ass.
The locker room shower is crowded and mandatory.
Jesus is next to me. We are naked.
I face the wall and don’t look around.
There’s a lesson in here somewhere,
but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.
Later, I contemplate in darkness,
staring at the back of a school bus seat.
The coach wobbles by and remarks “good job,”
without stopping, too tired to sound sincere.
“That kid is really something” he says, more to himself,
and I realize then that he would gladly let me burn
to have a guy like that on his team.