Skip to main content

Recess and the Speed of Sound

April is National Poetry Month, and Lifetime Learning celebrates with creative writing from the University of Virginia‘s esteemed faculty. Debra Nystrom gives us “Recess and the Speed of Sound” from her most recent book, Night Sky Frequencies: New and Selected Poems. Ms. Nystrom is a professor in the Department of English in the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.


-Murdo, South Dakota, 1963

Middle of nowhere: rattling restlessness trembling the window-glass,
and boys look up from marbles on the playground,
their tobacco-bag booty of round
gems spilled, placed to crack one against another at angles across
circles drawn in dirt. Cats’ eyes, oilies, steelies– stored beneath beds
at night, while dreams line up precision shots to hold
breath above: perfect-spun explosions; worlds displaced. They’ve been told
no coin-flips, no betting. Jets from the base shear daily over their heads,
shuddering ground, riffling the grasses. Timmy’s uncle in the Air Force
has climbed down into missile silos that hold the Titans over by Pine
Ridge– the Big Boys are out there under pastures and wind, waiting
for their chance. Stopping banter now to notice
crows flapping off all at once, kids knuckle down and wait for a bone-
thudding boom to shake their game, make what’s precious change hands.

-from Night Sky Frequencies: New and Selected Poems, by Debra Nystrom