In Memory of Dennis Turner, 1946-1984
A hook shot kisses the rim and
hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,
and for once our gangly starting center
boxes out his man and times his jump
perfectly, gathering the orange leather
from the air like a cherished possession
and spinning around to throw a strike
to the outlet who is already shoveling
an underhand pass toward the other guard
scissoring past a flat-footed defender
who looks stunned and nailed to the floor
in the wrong direction, trying to catch sight
of a high, gliding dribble and a man
letting the play develop in front of him
in slow motion, almost exactly
like a coach’s drawing on the blackboard,
both forwards racing down the court
the way that forwards should, fanning out
and filling the lanes in tandem, moving
together as brothers passing the ball
between them without a dribble, without
a single bounce hitting the hardwood
until the guard finally lunges out
and commits to the wrong man
while the power-forward explodes past them
in a fury, taking the ball into the air
by himself now and laying it gently
against the glass for a lay-up,
but losing his balance in the process,
inexplicably falling, hitting the floor
with a wild, headlong motion
for the game he loved like a country
and swiveling back to see an orange blur
floating perfectly through the net.
From Wild Gratitude. Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.
America under the lights
at Harry Ball Field. A fog rolls in
as the flag crinkles and drapes
around a metal pole.
My son reaches into the sky
to pull down a game-ender,
a bomb caught in his leather mitt.
He gives the ball a flat squeeze
then tosses it in from the outfield,
tugs his cap over a tussle of hair
before joining the team—
all high-fives and handshakes
as the Major boys line up
at home plate. They are learning
how to be good sports,
their dugout cheers interrupted only
by sunflower seed shells spat
along the first base line.
The coach prattles on
about the importance of stealing
bases and productive outs
while a teammate cracks a joke
about my son’s ‘fro, then says,
But you’re not really black…
to which there’s laughter,
to which he smiles but says nothing,
which says something about
what goes unsaid, what starts
with a harmless joke, routine
as a can of corn.
But this is little league.
This is where he learns
how to field a position,
how to play a bloop in the gap—
that impossible space where
he’ll always play defense.
Copyright © 2015 January Gill O'Neil. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner.
When I was twelve, I shoplifted a pair
Of basketball shoes. We could not afford
Them otherwise. But when I tied them on,
I found that I couldn’t hit a shot.
When the ball clanked off the rim, I felt
Only guilt, guilt, guilt. O, immoral shoes!
O, kicks made of paranoia and rue!
Distraught but unwilling to get caught
Or confess, I threw those cursed Nikes
Into the river and hoped that was good
Enough for God. I played that season
In supermarket tennis shoes that felt
The same as playing in bare feet.
O, torn skin! O, bloody heels and toes!
O, twisted ankles! O, blisters the size
Of dimes and quarters! Finally, after
I couldn’t take the pain anymore, I told
My father what I had done. He wasn’t angry.
He wept out of shame. Then he cradled
And rocked me and called me his Little
Basketball Jesus. He told me that every cry
Of pain was part of the hoops sonata.
Then he laughed and bandaged my wounds—
My Indian Boy Poverty Basketball Stigmata.
Copyright © 2015 Sherman Alexie. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner.
I understand what
a jump shot is,
of the body, hand
player names to
the imaginary water-
cooler if I found
myself there. A body
at rest still needs
to hydrate. I cried
and Magic in that
own a small collection
of expensive high-top
sneakers in various
exclusively to walk
my pets or to the
coffee shop for
an almond croissant.
Fresh to death. On
my mantle, four second
place trophies from
all before fifth grade.
Pitter patter sprawl.
I can’t remember
swimming. I mean,
I can’t swim. I can’t
I miss a high five,
the pat on the ass.
I swung and missed
at tee-ball, golf. Traded
cards for the love
of the potential investment.
George Brett, I’ll always
love your name.
I appreciate highlights,
trick plays as much as
the next: The Statue
of Liberty, Flea Flickers,
The Changing Light
at Sandover. I was
born in the suburbs
of the city of brotherly
bullies, poor sports,
famous boo-ers and
stadium court houses.
I was the only boy
cut from my seventh
grade soccer team.
It’s in my blood to lose
at all games, even Uno,
and when I do, I spit
into my palm or refuse
to shake hands.
Copyright © 2015 Brett Fletcher Lauer. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner.
The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, "If only Casey could but get a whack at that—
We'd put up even money now, with Casey at the bat."
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a hoodoo, while the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despisèd, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile lit Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt;
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance flashed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—
"That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one!" the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore;
"Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand;
And it's likely they'd have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the dun sphere flew;
But Casey still ignored it and the umpire said, "Strike two!"
"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered "Fraud!"
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate,
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate;
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.
This poem is in the public domain.