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Charles Hughes: Child’s Play

A poem from the author of Cave Art

Child’s Play

  • “Back in the day, . . . almost every boy
  • would come to school . . . with . . . marbles
  • (small colorful glass orbs about three-quarters
  • of an inch in diameter).”
  • —“Find Your Marbles, Grandpa,” Arkansas
  • Democrat-Gazette, June 15, 2020
  • The boys played marbles in the schoolyard.
  • The girls jumped rope or drew
  • Their hopscotch courts in thick white chalk, then
  • Hopped quick, as dancers do.
  • One boy stood by himself, just watching.
  • He felt much more alone
  • For having had his marbles stolen—
  • A sadness down to the bone.

It happened earlier that morning:

He’s walking, almost there,

A block from school, when two sixth-graders

Pounce—from what seems thin air.

He drops his tan felt pouch of marbles.

His face hits the hard grass.

The older boys run off. He rises,

Takes stock of what he has.

A bloody nose (not truly painful).

Both shoes—untied—still on.

His homework safe inside its notebook.

His marbles, though? They’re gone.

The bell rang, and the schoolday started.

He mourned the marbles he’d lost.

His teacher saw his mind was elsewhere;

She said he looked engrossed.

Aggies, cat’s eyes, solids—all sizes—

Each marble had its appeal.

He’d knelt sometimes in his yard and studied

Small beauties he could feel.

His favorite, a deep-sapphire solid,

The boulder he’d called his best,

Would spark in his mind an ocean’s surface—

Vast, sunlit, warm, at rest.

His mother noticed scrapes and redness.

He told her that he fell.

His mother asked for the whole story.

He said, only, he fell.

His forehead, nose, and chin unreddened.

He outgrew second grade.

Years flew by. His old grief grew older

Along with him. It stayed.

His grief flourished—part loss, part knowledge.

He finally told his wife

But kept what happened hidden from others,

Locked up in his inner life.

His children suffered their own sorrows,

Some clearly the kind time tames.

He watched from the sidelines, knowing child’s play

Is more than fun and games.

Charles Hughes

Charles Hughes is the author of the poetry collection Cave Art (Wiseblood Books 2014), and was a Walter E. Dakin Fellow at the 2016 Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Alabama Literary Review, The Christian Century, the Iron Horse Literary Review, Measure, the Saint Katherine Review, the San Diego Reader, the Sewanee Theological Review, and elsewhere. He worked as a lawyer for 33 years before his retirement and lives with his wife in the Chicago area.

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Child’s Play

  • “Back in the day, . . . almost every boy
  • would come to school . . . with . . . marbles
  • (small colorful glass orbs about three-quarters
  • of an inch in diameter).”
  • —“Find Your Marbles, Grandpa,” Arkansas
  • Democrat-Gazette, June 15, 2020
  • The boys played marbles in the schoolyard.
  • The girls jumped rope or drew
  • Their hopscotch courts in thick white chalk, then
  • Hopped quick, as dancers do.
  • One boy stood by himself, just watching.
  • He felt much more alone
  • For having had his marbles stolen—
  • A sadness down to the bone.

It happened earlier that morning:

He’s walking, almost there,

A block from school, when two sixth-graders

Pounce—from what seems thin air.

He drops his tan felt pouch of marbles.

His face hits the hard grass.

The older boys run off. He rises,

Takes stock of what he has.

A bloody nose (not truly painful).

Both shoes—untied—still on.

His homework safe inside its notebook.

His marbles, though? They’re gone.

The bell rang, and the schoolday started.

He mourned the marbles he’d lost.

His teacher saw his mind was elsewhere;

She said he looked engrossed.

Aggies, cat’s eyes, solids—all sizes—

Each marble had its appeal.

He’d knelt sometimes in his yard and studied

Small beauties he could feel.

His favorite, a deep-sapphire solid,

The boulder he’d called his best,

Would spark in his mind an ocean’s surface—

Vast, sunlit, warm, at rest.

His mother noticed scrapes and redness.

He told her that he fell.

His mother asked for the whole story.

He said, only, he fell.

His forehead, nose, and chin unreddened.

He outgrew second grade.

Years flew by. His old grief grew older

Along with him. It stayed.

His grief flourished—part loss, part knowledge.

He finally told his wife

But kept what happened hidden from others,

Locked up in his inner life.

His children suffered their own sorrows,

Some clearly the kind time tames.

He watched from the sidelines, knowing child’s play

Is more than fun and games.

Charles Hughes

Charles Hughes is the author of the poetry collection Cave Art (Wiseblood Books 2014), and was a Walter E. Dakin Fellow at the 2016 Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Alabama Literary Review, The Christian Century, the Iron Horse Literary Review, Measure, the Saint Katherine Review, the San Diego Reader, the Sewanee Theological Review, and elsewhere. He worked as a lawyer for 33 years before his retirement and lives with his wife in the Chicago area.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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