Playing in the Johnny Plug
On a found photograph in a family album
They warm in the outermost ring then go back in. Circles of children collapse in on each like the rings of a spinning top, a ring-around-the-rosy for children whose play is as essential as breathing, but choked out by signs that tell them, “No, you cannot play.” Like my father said, “There were pools, but we couldn’t go there.” But they make do, create play where they will, take pliers from the tools their fathers bring to work and unlock that which is locked to them—and swim. In shorts and t-shirts, some bare-chested, they mime. They butterfly and scissor-kick, backstroke, and wade, but they do not wait for play. They are action. See the young man, older than the others, bend over the plug with braced arm on the end of a long wrench to open it wider—let the water flow for the children. See the smallest of them, a young girl, run right toward the blast, arms stuck in the full swing of sprinting. The boys too concerned with their own fun do not see her break away from the order they have created. It is not her turn. This is the moment of the snap. Someone in an apartment across the courtyard hears the sound of children playing, hears the giggle and shouts of one of her own, goes into the bedroom, and pulls out a camera from a catch-all. Nothing else to do but wait, wait for it: this moment of spontaneous energy and snap the picture of a girl like my mother my mother playing in the Johnny plug in the Johnny plug because no pool would take her would take her take her
Cocoa-Michelle Williams’ work has appeared or is forthcoming in Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry and Prose, december magazine, and the College Language Association Journal, among others. She is a doctoral candidate in African American Literary and Cultural Studies and is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana.