Santiago: Five Men in the Street

Four fellows in orange uniforms
and a fifth in a dismal suit play
pick up soccer in the street. It's their

lunch break, and the ball, a kid's beach ball,
might not make it trough this half hour
of pleasure, as the men leap and kick

this flimsy target of blue plastic.
The guy in the suit is a clerk who
gets yelled at. The ones in orange sweep

out a garage for a boss who thinks
a uniform looks sharp. The hours
they travel by bus to get to work,

the pennies they get paid, the verbal
abuse of those who need to prove they're
cut from better cloth--all disappear

in this thirty minutes in the street.
It's the end of winter and the tightly
folded leaves of the plane trees begin

to release their delicate green plumes.
The clerk lunges for a kick that shoots
the ball smack against a metal gate.

Goal! shout the others. The clerk raises
his hands above his head as his pals
whack him on the back. Take this moment

and freeze it--five guys grinning, showing off
their lousy teeth. Not one will ever
find an easy death and each will know

a hundred forms of grief. Having gone
splat, the ball deflates on the pavement.
The five men collapse beneath a tree

and the clerk hands rounds his cigarettes.
They light up, sigh, and watch the leaves
unfurl their little flags of green.

:: Stephen Dobyns, in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review #2 (1993)

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