The Rungs

Only the person with the green dice should be talking,
I remind the boys, holding up the oversized foam cubes.

And the others should be? Listening, K. says,
and how should we listen? Con el corazón, M. replies,

thumping his chest with his closed fist.
That’s right, I say, with the heart. Who wants to start?

The dice are passed around the circle
and the boys gloss over the check-in question.

When they reach B., who walked here, unaccompanied,
from Honduras three months ago, he holds them like boulders.

We straighten when his lip begins to quiver.
It’s not my place to tell you what he shared that day.

But I can tell you how M. put his hand on B.’s back
and said, maje, desahógate,

which translates roughly to un-drown yourself,
though no English phrase so willingly accepts

that everyone has drowned, and that we can reverse that gasping,
expel the fluids from our lungs.

I sit quietly as the boys make, with their bodies, the rungs of a ladder,
and B. climbs up from the current, sits in the sun

for a few good minutes before he jumps back in.
The dice finish the round and we are well over time.

I resist the urge to speak about rafts, what it means to float.
Good, I tell them, let’s go back to class.

After handshakes and side hugs, I’m left alone in the small room
with a box of unopened tissues, two starburst wrappers on the ground.

“The Rungs” from West Portal by Benjamin Gucciardi. Copyright © 2021 by Benjamin Gucciardi. Used by permission of University of Utah Press.