The Homecoming

Tuba bells catch stadium light in the end zone,
flash it to cymbals, who wait at attention
in the percussion section. In the stands,
parents bundle under blankets, wave to friends.
Elementary boys wear oversized jerseys and blue jeans,
chase girls with bags of popcorn and fruit punch.
Their older siblings gather in corners, drink Pepsi,
eat pizza, go out into the night with fragile confidence.

The director paces the goal line, then signals
Instruments Up! and the crisp fall air
fills with “The Old Colonial March,” low brass
and bass drum escalating into squeaks and trills
from clarinet and piccolos as the band steps off,
an eight-in-five march down field. The audience claps
a dutiful round and waits for the invitation
to rise to their feet. The director cues the snare
who rolls off – O Say, can you see?

Stars and stripes flap steadily in the late evening,
all heads turned, all hearts covered. Some sing,
but most have forgotten the words, hum along,
or hold tight to caps – and the home of the brave.
Then the cut-off, three taps into the fight song.
Now the crowd is giddy with cheers, yelling,
“We’re gonna fight fight fight for every score!”

After the procession to the bleachers, the coin toss,
the kick off, all boo when the ref throws a yellow flag.
Cheerleaders chant DEFENSE and prance, pom poms shining,
swishing down the track. Dads lean against the fence
and count the seconds their sons get to play,
tally tackles and fumbles for post-game breakdowns.
Moms sip hot chocolate and gossip under their blankets.
Daughters walk in huddles and whisper five feet behind
an oblivious pack of boys – fingers in their belt loops.
The girls giggle when one turns and smiles.

And the younger children zig between,
learn their lessons well, never wonder
at the simple patterns, calculated plays,
choreographed routines. The chill will grow deeper
as the season of passion swings to a close,
home team victorious, or not. We all return to that year,
that night, when the lights hit the field and made it magic,
the way the band played, the extra point into overtime,
words exchanged in the bleachers, the unbeatable defeated.
We all come home to this Friday night.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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