Sometime in the midst of third grade, during recess, something new was happening on the playground. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to notice this new vibration; for it was wandering around importantly, from the low sandboxes, right by the swing set up & around the big oak tree which leant itself lazily & lovingly a bit to the right or the left, depending on how you were oriented, as this tree was centered in the middle of on our mild hill.
The disruption continued around the tree, winding its way in nonsensical trains through the mud & mulched terrain of the jungle gym plot, on and right beneath the monkey bars where certain kids hung with mouths half agape, over towards the red brick wall where before it laid this subtle garden, if hazy memory serves me so. From there around the picnic tables, across the chalked asphalt, beyond the kids playing foursquare & further on under the old basketball net, right up to—but not a step over— the quiet boundary of what we had claimed from early days as our soccer field, though it had no grass. A 10 by 10 square of dirt packed land, encased two quarters of the way by the cream colored school wall. A faded red back of the shed stood as goal, across from which we marked upon the wall the other goal, with freshly paced out measurements of feet & baseball caps or spare jackets for the posts.
Both the boys’ & girls’ team preferred to be shooting towards the shed, for its accuracy was always unquestionable. The ball hit the shed or the ball rolled all the way across the asphalt and usually down the mild hill past the tree bottoming out towards the swing set. It was a drag to chase your own missed ball, so when you’re shooting toward the shed you sort of shot harder & aimed better & tried more. Unfixed hats proved a blurrier boundary; when shooting towards the cream wall your points were always put to debate. Which made it quite difficult to win when your team was wall-facing. Which made it that much sweeter when you pulled it off. Which began to make it equally desirable to face that way; in other words; to start out as known underdog, giving your team the possibility of epic victory—or even in the event of defeat—a kind of valiance of effort, a satisfied, sweaty countenance to take back to the classroom. For all of these complexities, the girls & boys agreed early on to switch direction every next recess. To keep it fair. Anyway, as girls we carried still a subtle sense of constant underdog—we knew the boys expected us to lose—regardless of the way we were facing each day; a victory was a victory, and we celebrated each occasion of it unapologetically, stomping our feet down so the dirt would flutter up, sending our voices across the playground, loudly:
AMERICAN WOMAN *stomp stomp stomp stomp* GET AWAY FROM ME-EEEEE
AMERICAN WOMAN *stomp stomp stomp stomp* MAMA LET ME BE-EEEEEEEE
DON’T GO HANGIN ‘ROUND MY DOOR
I DON’T WANNA SEE YOUR SHADOW NO MORE
SUBTLE LIGHTS GET HYPNOTIZED
SPARKLE SOMEONE ELSE’S EYE
NOW WOMAN *stomp stomp stomp stomp* GET AWAY
If ever we made it as far as the chorus, the boys had already gathered their dirty hats & wandered back into the hallway, unfazed. Suddenly they never cared about soccer or pointless recess game. Nor did they care much about women; cared even less so to contemplate our shadows.
It was on a day, I believe, like that; after a tasty victory, when our celebration had already dwindled & the boys had disappeared back into the building, that the disruption approached our field and halted its march to speak with us. This memory is so clouded, I could not tell you with any honesty what happened next. Is this a hint? Trauma when it’s inflicted on you is ruthless in leaving unforgettable marks in & of memory. But when you are the inflictor—or a part of the inflicting—the details are left less vivid; almost drowned; the how’s & the why did I’s all muddled into landscape. As though surrounding horizons are as close to an explanation as you might get. Did the girls invite us to join their brigade? Their 2 by 2 train, with a fifth body—The Captain—standing in the middle, as the head. Perhaps The Captain was showing us the business cards she had made for each member of the train. Perhaps we were mesmerized by the obvious power this exception to normality was generating; heat loud rolling around the playground in steam & song, demanding everybody’s attention, making the jocks & even us tomboys turn our heads and wonder huh. Perhaps they asked us to join. Perhaps we begged them to let us form their caboose
next time we were all out for recess. Perhaps someone proposed tomorrow.
I want you to know that all I can clearly remember of this event is the topography. The rest is a hazy orchard of feeling, glossed over by the muted shame of nature herself, when she examines her options of other ways of being & so begins turning; season to newer season [ out of boredom? out of curiosity? ] disregarding all that she is already, for what she doesn’t know for sure is worth knowing; only that it is hanging there, waiting to be tasted. And now she can’t help but see it. And now all she can do is see & see it; the seeing sprouting a tiny seed of a want, not yet aged into desire. Now she harbors a small curiosity, a mild wonder, of what it might be like to emerge out of the landscape as something separate from it; something new. A thing to be seen itself. To be known. To be part of the disruption. Tomorrow came & instead of heading to the field & unbuttoning the sides of our adidas striped windbreaker pants to reveal our sport shorts & soccer socks, we kept our pants on & met the girls by the sloping tree. The train assembled into formation. Captain at the head, two girls as first row couplet, two girls as second couplet, my friend & I forming the rear. The Captain picked up our momentum by marching us first down the hill and all the way down towards the fence where she began leading us in song:
FREAK EXTERMINATORS, FREAK AHOY!
FREAK EXTERMINATORS, FREAK!
We sung in giddy school girl voices as we marched—FREAK EXTERMINATORS, FREAK AHOY—our feet in unison toward the sandboxes—FREAK EXTERMINATORS—where we paused near faceless bodies bent over buckets & half dug holes, extending our pointer fingers, singing—FREAK! AHOY! AHOY!—and quickly departing, continuing our journey towards the swings, Captain scanning for our next target. Up the hill to the four square court, singing, scanning, pointing. Across the asphalt, singing, scanning, pointing, to the jungle gym, and under the monkey bars, where Our Captain pinpointed the most classic nerd in sight, The New Kid to our grade. The New Kid once cornered me in the music hallway to confess how he harbored this undying crush & then kind of pushed me into the wall with his body & I felt at once disgusted & shyly flattered & unsure if I should tell the teacher or stay away from him forever & suddenly now it was all rushing over me in a feeling really bad for him despite all this, as we stood there singing, The New Kid looking straight at us from behind his thick glasses, head slightly crooked to the left. Face sullen. I let my arm fall mid refrain & looked at sideways at my friend. Only a sliver of recess had passed and we had already covered half of the playground, is this really what we were going to do for a whole hour? The girls team was probably wondering where we were, as the two of us made up almost half of its players. If we went back now, we might still have a chance at epic comeback. Plus, we’d never gotten those business cards The Captain had promised, which was most of the allure for me anyway. We ripped off our pants & disbanded the caboose, ran back towards muddier pastures.
A few days later the whole train got called into The Principal’s office, the first only time I had all throughout school ever been summoned. I remember my heart sinking. For in the days that had stretched out from the event, I had fallen into a real shame, not only for being drawn into participating in the actions of the train, but also for high & drying my team. And for what? I knew the difference between right & wrong. Good & bad. Ok & not ok. I even knew there was not much difference between person & freak after the events of the preceding summer, my first away at sleepaway camp, when my new friend’s big sister whispered in her ear, so loudly that I could hear, that I was one, and that her sister should find a new friend. I welled up in wanting to tell The Principal all this, but when I arrived at the office, she met me at the door and told me it was okay for me to go right back to class. Someone told me you weren’t really involved, she said with that kind smile of hers, and I swallowed & nodded knowing that someone of course was The New Kid, & I turned around to head the way I came, not feeling any better about anything.
About the contributor: Gabrielle joy lessans is a conspirator of @collective.off; a denver-based atmospheric poet & forrest yogi; a co-founder of the up-and-coming the space station wellness center; and a recent graduate of the kerouac school. currently she harbors a philosophical obsession with gentleness. recent poems can be found in places like black sun lit vestiges 4, inverted syntax, bone bouquet. her first book [a go] was named finalist in the 2017 & 2018 nightboat prize for poetry & semifinalist for the yesyes pamet prize.