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.
His speed and strength, which is the strength of ten
years, races me home from the pool.
First I am ahead, Niké, on my bicycle,
no hands, and the Times crossword tucked in my rack,
then he is ahead, the Green Hornet,
buzzing up Witherspoon,
flashing around the corner to Nassau Street.
At noon sharp he demonstrated his neat
one-and-a-half flips off the board:
Oh, brave. Did you see me, he wanted to know.
And I doing my backstroke laps was Juno
Oceanus, then for a while I watched some black
and white boys wrestling and joking, teammates, wet
plums and peaches touching each other as if
it is not necessary to make hate,
as if Whitman was right and there is no death.
A big wind at our backs, it is lovely, the maple boughs
ride up and down like ships. Do you mind
if I take off, he says. I’ll catch you later,
see you, I shout and wave, as he peels
away, pedaling hard, rocket and pilot.
From The Mother/Child Papers, by Alicia Susan Ostriker © 2009. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used with permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
The hoop is not metal, but a pair of outstretched arms,
God’s arms, joined at the fingers. And God is saying
throw it to me. It’s not a ball anymore. It’s an orange prayer
I’m offering with all four chambers. And the other players—
the Pollack of limbs, flashing hands and teeth—
are just temptations, obstacles between me and the Lord’s light.
Once during an interview I slipped, I didn’t pray well tonight,
and the reporter looked at me, the same one who’d called me
a baller of destiny, and said you mean play, right? Of course,
I nodded. Don’t misunderstand—I’m no reverend
of the flesh. Priests embarrass me. A real priest
wouldn’t put on that robe, wouldn’t need the public
affirmation. A real priest works in disguise, leads
by example, preaches with his feet. Yes, Jesus walked on water,
but how about a staircase of air? And when the clock
is down to its final ticks, I rise up and over the palms
of a nonbeliever—the whole world watching, thinking
it can’t be done—I let the faith roll off my fingertips, the ball
drunk with backspin, a whole stadium of people holding
the same breath simultaneously, the net flying up like a curtain,
the lord’s truth visible for an instant, converting nonbelievers
by the bushel, who will swear for years they’ve witnessed a miracle.
Copyright © 2015 Jeffrey McDaniel. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner.