Burnout – by Jeff Worley


was what the game was called,
the game of catch Dad and I played.
You stand 50 feet away at first

and throw the ball hard as you can
to your partner, your opponent. It’s
a dialectic of quick heat. You need

nerves like wrought iron, nimble
reflexes, a well-padded glove.
We had just argued at dinner,

black clouds flexing in the window.
My hair was too long and Dad
demanded to know what was in
the aromatic baggie
he turned up in my glove box.
It was 1969, and he invested

every ounce of righteous energy
he could muster in firing the ball
at me in the backyard. Tradition

thunked like a sledgehammer
into my mitt; then family,
the American Way. I hurled back

a dorsal-carpel-popping carpe diem,
Happy Hour haze, recreational sex.
At 40 feet he wound up like a man

with too many arms, and sent me
reeling on my heels, the ball a spike
in my blistering palm. So I smoked

the next one at his sweaty temple.
Steady job, Dad’s return sung out,
the webbing of my Jimmy Piersall

mitt snapping back but holding.
Hedonistic hijinx, I slung back.
Eight-to-five, Albert Camus, credit

rating, Mr. Zig Zag, Windsor knot . . .
With only 30 feet between us, Mother
intervened with two deep blue bowls

of chocolate chip ice cream.
We dropped our steaming gloves
in thick clover. It’s nearly dark, she said,

someone could get hurt in this game.

[ “Burnout” first appeared in Atlanta Review, Spring/Summer 2001, and was republished in the books Happy Hour at the Two Keys Tavern (Mid-List Press 2006) and Driving Late to the Party (Woodley Press 2012).]

Jeff Worley, born and raised in Wichita, was the second graduate of the Wichita State MFA program (1975). He is extremely grateful to Bruce Cutler, founder of the program, for his invaluable help with early fledgling poems. Jeff has published 10 collections of poetry, the most recent, A Little Luck, winner of the 2012 X.J. Kennedy Poetry Prize from Texas Review Press. Now retired from the University of Kentucky, he and his wife, Linda, split their time between Lexington and their Cave Run Lake cabin.

Guest Editor Roy J. Beckemeyer is President of the Kansas Authors Club. His poetry book, Music I Once Could Dance To (Coal City Press, 2014) was a 2015 Kansas Notable Book.


One thought on “Burnout – by Jeff Worley

  1. Jeff–This poem took me back a few years, and it did it in an excellent way. Bruce Cutler also was a great inspiration for me, making me believe that what I was doing was worthwhile. After hearing so many good things about you at a Mikrokosmos reading a couple of years ago, it’s good to meet you through your poem.

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