The Umpire

by Austin Allen

What else could I get paid for at thirteen?
Ten bucks per A-League game in cold, hard cash
to pad my wilted, rubber-banded stash—
plus, in the dusk at the concessions shed,
free food. The hotdogs hissed and spat. The green
soda fizz brimmed. The job went to my head.

I crouched. I screamed. I felt extremely grown-up.
Things hurtled at me, and I made a choice
in my least terrified and squeaking voice.
I called it as I saw it. If I missed it
and someone called me on it, I insisted;
the training said you weren’t supposed to own up.
I was the justice parents had to ask:
the kid behind the kid behind the mask,
wearing, behind my own, half-inch-thick lenses.
(I wanted more to signal than disguise
the newfound qualifications of my eyes.
Playing last year, I’d hardly seen the fences.)

Things smashed and ricocheted and soared and plopped.
My lenses fogged with sweat; I kept my cool.
Kids ran in shrieking circles; I backstopped
the chaos with my firm and book-based rule.
I fucked up nightly. Coaches weren’t above
charging the plate and hurling anguished rage
at a kid not much more than their kids’ age,
mouths twisting, golf tans reddening at their collars.
One called me “bitch.” He did it out of love.
I took it for a hotdog and ten dollars.