Self-Portrait as Team Mascot

David Hernandez


I do not speak—

my head lodged inside the cougar’s throat. 
Midway up the neck, meshed eyeholes.
So I only see what’s right in front: the bleachers
but not the scoreboard.  The goalpost
but not the bleachers.  There is no

whole picture anymore. 
By summer, by halftime,
I’m burning inside this thing, my entire body
damp with sweat, and I am
more like a garden slug
than the animal I’m zippered inside.

But I am human, see.  I’m just
as worried and lonely as you.

Look, the brunette over there,
the one holding the cheerleader cone—
when I say her name
to myself, my mind slides
down this tube, it goes

and goes and my heart soon
follows, and I swear I can almost
smell the green apples
in whatever glorious shampoo
she lathers into her hair.

A whistle shrills.  The players huddle.
Before the howling crowd
I strut, lift a paw beside my tilted head,
as in: I cannot hear you.
When I turn around, she’s in my eyesight

way on the other end.  Like a struck match
her stadium-lit hair
wavers in the night wind.

Inside this thing, I am burning.