Three Poems by Dale Cottingham

Girding Up

                                                The coat still fit. The arms,

the chest, all of it in brown corduroy.

And his wool stocking hat. Also out of vogue,

that he’d thought he lost,

he now pulls over his ears.


He rights himself.

He feels smaller and smaller.

Through morning’s haze,

he looks into a thinning line of days.

No telling what he’ll say out there or

what stance he’ll take.

But he tells himself

that sure enough, he’ll arrive.


He packs a sandwich for the road,

pours coffee in a travel mug.

Not in training anymore,

he girds up. Departs again.

Fit as he’ll be for what comes.


At the Game    

Photo by John Torcasio



In the beginning, Mahomes stood on the field,

limbering up with the others,

being perceived.

He tossed the ball, took practice runs, dipped

as if he’d taken a snap, faded back,

seemed to be having fun in the old way.

And from my sweaty seat, on that glorious day,

I could see it was a predicated romance:

the lines had been drawn, it was a game.


As kickoff approached, an arrangement

formed, margins honored, things

became more focused. From stands to field

an anxiousness gained footing,

heads felt like exploding,

then it just went.


During the action, Mahomes gave some jukes and jives,

tried different arrangements, tested ideas,

sometimes sending wide outs in great arcs or flaring

to his flanks. There were evaluations, then reevaluations, split

second decisions, a ball flip or two,

even a run right up the gut,

Mahomes honing close to his exact premonition.

And when a play was over,

high fives all around no matter what the result,

Mahomes pleased with what he thought he’d accomplished

under the glorious sky.


In the row in front of me, a fan rose to her feet, yelling, What

                                                                        a glorious day

to spend in the presence of Mahomes. She held a foam hand

with a finger pointing skyward as if to say, I guess,

Number One! And to think she brought this

all the way from her place, to make this

her addition to the proceedings,

a projection that must have meant to her so much.

Then I heard her yell, Under this glorious sky,

I could have done so many things,

                                                but I am gladdened that I am here, perceiving.


And the sky rained light, open and blue,

almost endless as if a blank page that held itself out

where I or anyone could create without shame,

only held back by the upper limits where the air got too thin

or the lower limits where the earth itself

became impenetrable. I was thrilled. Then

I saw the blimp blink:

For you at the game, all of this.


And the crowd began to chant, How glorious is the day!

Mahomes in midseason form, swerving and diving,

making play after play seem easy,

was enviable, astonishing for us to see.

So the game, for me, became relished space.

But I felt sympathy for the fans watching at home,

for how can they fully perceive

when they are once removed from the action . . .


Then the public announcer came on:

Mahomes’s agenda cut short on this once glorious day.

                                                And I saw him lying on the field, attended to,

then carried off on a cart, and it came to me

that even the great Mahomes, author

of so much to cheer for, did not escape unscathed

but got marked by the day, and, no doubt,

in prior days too, and I could imagine the scars

he carried hidden under his uniform,

which leveled the game to a human affair.


                                                With that, it seemed like the energy went out of the place,

the announcer went silent as if he was outa there.

And I turned to see if the woman

still held up her foam hand, but she was leaving.

And the rest of the crowd was leaving,

for Mahomes was absent from the field.

I thought despite all this faltering and everyone leaving,

even if I’m left to my solitude,

if that’s what it’s come to,

I will still see the day as glorious.


Then in the parking lot, I saw

Mahomes on crutches, surrounded by well wishers

moving away and into the nation,

head high, for he’d given his own lilt and tone,

and at my car, I was buoyed and thought,

It’s been good to spend an afternoon at the game.


Fruit in Season              


Well, darlings, morning again.

Time to get up and try some new steps.

We distaste the old way, the emulated way,

those lines we read that were elegant, intelligent

for as long as their taste lasted.


But now I’m working up these eggs,

toasting toast, putting out

my own version of cinnamon biscuits and

a little sorghum on the side.


And out the window, some jays

singing in trees. Who knows if their voices will carry.

Who knows what their songs mean.

It’s their time, their songs.


It all seems to contribute:

the early summer heat, the clouds portending something,

the dewberries we planted in hope

that they’ll give fruit in season.

Dale Cottingham is of mixed race, part Choctaw, part White. He has published poems and reviews of poetry collections in many journals.

He is a Breadloafer, won the 2019 New Millennium Award for Poem of the Year, and was a finalist in the 2021 Great Midwest Poetry Contest. He lives in Edmond, Oklahoma.