Michael Long’s head was smoking
after our warm-up run in PE class.
It was his first day and he was fast –
faster even than Mr. Baughman.
But more impressive than his speed
was the fact that his head was smoking.
I’d never seen that before, even though
hot and sweaty defines middle school boys,
and on cool mornings we loved breathing steam
like adolescent dragons flexing fire-breathing lungs.
But, nobody’s head had ever smoked.
I remember wondering if it was because
Michael Long was black. There weren’t any
African-Americans in America in those days.
People were White, Black, Brown, or Oriental.
I remember asking myself if Michael Long’s
head smoked because he was black. I wondered that
even though I’d never seen any other black person’s
head smoke. I played football and basketball
with Darryl and Jeffery Tolbert all the time
and neither of their heads had ever smoked.
When I slept over at their house the only odd thing
about them was the way they woke up loudly
against the heavy congestion in their chests.
But that wasn’t because they were black,
that was because they had asthma. All the Tolberts did.
I’ve seen lots of people’s heads smoke since
that autumn morning almost forty-years ago. All colors
of people have heads that smoke. Turns out
that all that smoke pouring out of Michael Long’s head
was from the heat-exchange between the super warm blood
racing through his face and brain and the soggy gray air
we’d all just run through. It’s not that complicated.
Vine Leaves Literary Journal - Summer 2013