No one in the huddle laughed
when Howard said he was Jesus,
that if we did not believe him
we were all sinners doomed to hell.
The next play was a hand-off to Howard.
Everyone, even our team, piled on,
grabbing for Howard, for the ball,
for the chance to cling to something solid.
When our boyhood heap had finally become still,
a pointed shadow drew our eyes way down the field
and there against the goal post leaned Howard,
the warm ball in his arms like a baby,
his eyes round and deep like the barrels of a gun.
Walking home, everyone was silent but Howard.
He said he had wanted to tell us about it before,
but was not sure we were ready to listen,
not sure we were ready to believe.
He said for the last year and a half
as he lay each night on his back,
his arms stretched out in a cross,
his feet so neatly together,
he was sure he had been chosen to lead us
in the path of righteousness for his namesake.
He said it was not luck that he had aced every test,
that the bookcase and birdhouse he built in shop class
won ribbons at the county fair.
He said that was just his way of being Jesus,
that we must learn to trust his perfect ways
and regard his saintly airs with adulation.
But we walked on in silence, each new step
so tight and full of fear we could not breathe,
could not break away and run on home alone.
At his house we stopped and watched him enter,
his eyes releasing us at last behind the door.
That night beside our beds we fell to prayer
and prayed that all that afternoon was just a dream,
that we would wake up in the morning and find Howard
in the huddle telling lies just like before.