Leah Browning

Rookie (1973- / New Mexico)

Damage - Poem by Leah Browning

One has to question the logic of a swing set
embedded in a slab of asphalt
on the playground of an elementary school.

Those coltish legs slanted at an angle,
the dark smile of each seat hanging from chains,
but it was the 1970s all plaid slacks

and big collars and we didn’t think about safety
then, in those years before AIDS and baby
car seats. It was still cool to smoke and sunbathe,

and I never had to wear a bike helmet
or travel en masse because the weirdo
in the white van who stopped me

on my way to school and asked if I’d seen his dog
and would I get in and help him look for it
was an anomaly, and we didn’t lock

our front door or worry about picking up
a woman stranded by the side of the road
with her car because nobody had a cell phone

and looking back my god it’s a wonder we
didn’t all die; it’s a wonder anyone survived
with all the lead paint and raw cookie dough.

So I never thought twice about the bed of asphalt
waiting for Jason Jackson’s warm head
as he stood on the swing and pushed as hard

as he could with his legs. That swing set
is gone now, and the spinning death trap
we used to fall off of and even the teeter-totters,

with their pale splintered wood, but they were still
there then. And Jason didn’t die, just cracked
his head open on the asphalt and had to go

to the hospital in an ambulance and get stitches.
Every day from then on his father went to work
a little later because he walked him to school

carrying Jason’s little sister on his shoulders
in a fog of cigarette smoke, and all three of them smiling
as if it were the victory march.

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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, April 2, 2008

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