After practice, my son kicks off his cleats
and leaves them under the front seat.
He treats the van like a storage locker,
draping his uniform and sweats around.
The daughter complains each morning
as I take her to school. The cleats smell.
They’re in her way. It’s not fair. I agree
with all of these points, and yet I don’t
tell the son to move them. For one,
it’s yet another argument I’m too tired
to have. There are already so many things
I’m prodding him about: homework,
showers, closing doors, drinking water …
and, to be honest, I kind of like them there,
this mark of the boy, these muddy talismans.
He used to hold my hand as he fell asleep,
and once he pulled his fingers away,
picked his nose, then slid them back in my palm.
Yes, this is love, I thought then, holding snot
unflinchingly. Soon enough I’ll be able
to keep the van and the house and my life
clean, uncluttered; for now, I let him
leave his cleats there, in everyone’s way,
telling myself it’s a type of civics lesson
about living together, telling my daughter,
“I know, I know, it’s annoying. Kind of like
when someone keeps pre-setting the stereo
buttons to all their favorite stations.” “No,
she says, “No. That is totally different.”
by Joseph Mills
Editor’s Note: This poem’s easy tone can deceive the reader—because the narrator is so ordinary and relatable, one nearly misses the clever slip of purpose into the poem’s 24th-25th lines.