Roller Derby Night in Southern Illinois


                                     for Elise

I wish you could have seen the oval track
the girls skated around like a cluster
of orbiting planets, all of them in kneepads
and helmets plastered with stickers, all of us
eating hot dogs, cheering for the sun-colored team

and the little girl no older than four who toed
the out-of-bounds line during introductions
like she was standing at a shoreline, holding her hand out
for high-fives from the girls ducking close to the ground
as they approached her, and how she’d turn, feet

springing off the floor, to look back
at her grandma laughing, the wrinkles in her face
you would have thought beautiful
beneath the umbrella voice of the announcer
as the referee with a full-sleeve tattoo of a skeleton

traced figure-8s with his skates like an ad for infinity. And I wish
you could have seen the girls not afraid to wear fishnets
and compete. The girls not afraid to get knocked down
in rainbow-colored zebra-striped spandex. The girls
not afraid to get bruised and banged up, turn blue

and black if it means there’s a place for what’s real, what’s hard,
and what’s gorgeous. I wish you could have seen
the disco ball on the back of a girl’s black shorts
and how she tackled one of the MissFits off the track,
green mouth-guard glowing plutonium on her tongue

and I wish, on the way home, you could have seen
the Big Dipper above Crab Orchard Lake, nailed
to the black wall of space, and the moon spinning slow,
flashing on the water like aluminum foil,
like an instructor’s guide to mirrors.


Margaret Graber is a writer and educator originally from Northwestern Indiana. She holds an MFA from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, a BA in English and Religious Studies from Indiana University, and she has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the Luminarts Cultural Foundation in Chicago and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico. Her work has been featured in Atticus Review, Stirring: A Literary Collection, Toad, Utter, and Gingerbread House, among other publications. A former radio disc jockey and environmental educator, she most recently lived and worked at Emandal Farm, located on the Eel River in Northern California.