Sara McCoy

An army of dark freckles chose not to spare an inch of his pale face,
Instead smothering his chin and cheeks,
Encroaching upon his outer lip and brow, and even daring
To invade the whites of one of his soft green eyes.

Nevertheless, he was the king of the playground,
And with curious envy I’d watch him command the swing every recess,
Leaning back and forth in reckless pursuit of the highest point
that the laws of nature would allow him to reach until, for just an instant,

His faced seemed to disappear into the light sky,
And he’d leap off— usually contorting his body into a stunning backflip—
before gracefully falling back to earth and sticking the landing.

Even though the swingset was foreign territory,
The playground was inscribed by a concrete loop,
And I’d always challenge unsuspecting classmates to race.
I’d triple-check that my milk money was secure in my pocket,
Draw the start line with my faded pink croc,
And on the count of a rushed “3-2-1,”

I’d run for my life.

My untamed black curls struggled against the wind,
My tan skin glittered with sweat and aspiration,
And the types of opponents I’d select became stronger and faster
Along with my unfounded confidence.

Each night of dreaming brought with it the utter erasure
Of the overwhelming slew of loses I’d suffered that afternoon;
Through both victory and defeat I felt unstoppable until the bell rang for lunchtime,
And suddenly the hole in my sandal seemed insignificant yet impossible to ignore.

I still don’t understand exactly what compelled me
To approach the swingset one summer afternoon in my neighborhood playground
And swing back and forth and back and forth — my heart racing —
Until I discovered a peak and closed my eyes and whispered “3-2-1” and let go

And screamed and flailed until gravity slammed my back into the ground,
Forcing my last breath of oxygen to shoot out from my lungs and escape into the open

When asked about the inspiration for this piece, Sara said, “This poem is about a lightbulb memory I have from my childhood, from around third or fourth grade. My inspiration for writing it stems from the recent wave of protests demanding racial justice and equity, as well as quarantine and isolation, which forced me to reflect deeply on how my childhood experiences have shaped my identity— at once both limiting me and freeing me.”