Phantom Punch

Alan King

He was Calvin, the class “comedian”
always snapping on someone: Ey!
Why my man’s clothes look donated!

Those high school days
were chocolate Eddie Bauer jackets
and sugar cookie Timbs
dressing the Gingerbread men
women wasted their times chasing.

And you were a 10th grader
with braces and a learner’s permit,
eager to jump behind the wheel and floor it
as if your life was a sports car
your parents kept in the slow lane.

Too slow for Vanessa, whose curves shouted
through tight jeans and short t-shirts.
Her walk was a pocket watch swung
from a hypnotist’s fingers. Her strawberry-
glossed lips and lavender scent lingered
until getting her attention smoldered in you
like a weak barrel fire.

And you sizzled for the speed of fellas
old enough to stay out late
and buy their own clothes—
guys whose fresh Sean Jean hoodies
and Rocawear jeans said
they didn’t need permission
for anything.

The bright swoosh on your Nikes—
a signature from Nee-kay, the winged
goddess of speed—was as fast
as your parents let you go.

You and your boys watched Vanessa after a
bomb threat chased everyone from class to
the parking lot.

And there was Calvin
prowling through the crowd,
looking for prey. He rocked
the red and white Jordans—
kept speckless with a toothbrush.

Vanessa thought it was cool
he didn’t wear the same pair twice
in one week.

And you go back to a day in class
when he and another kid sparred—
their jokes were blows
below the belt:

Yo, your hair so nappy,
it look like chocolate covered Nerds.

But dawg, why your ‘fro
look like a bowl of taco meat!

You saw Vanessa laugh
and call Calvin a fool
before you jumped in and said
Calvin couldn’t get rid of his widow’s
peak even if he bikini waxed his

He said you had on referee shoes—
your inky Nikes.

You looked up from the blacktop to see
Calvin smiling at you.

Ey referee, you gon’ get fired
you keep showin’ up
without the rest of your uniform.

Your boys dissolved into the crowd
that looped you like a noose.
Vanessa’s laugh was alcohol
on a wound his words opened
when they right-hooked you.

And it stung when Calvin said
he saw you on TV running down the

Where your whistle at, referee?

I don’t know, you said, but if I had it,
you’d get a technical for your shape-up.
Vanessa laughed.

Last updated September 27, 2022