Pickup

- 1937-

It is all about speed and flexibility, about speed
and flexibility and teamwork and accuracy.  We move
like neurons charging in your head, man,

choreography from the ground up,
meanwhile smelling the hot asphalt and exhaust,
the chainlink fence around the playground spinning

past the corner of our eye, with the traffic and storefronts,
what the ball feels like in our hands, hard, pebbled, orange
and black, what the dribble feels like,

the sound and pound, the sort of lope we adopt
getting on and off the court, the way somebody looks
when he starts to play, his face and his sneakers, it’s all part of it.

When we swivel it is a whiplash, when we pass it is a cannonball,
when we leap, we hang in the air like Nijinsky taking a nap,
when the ball goes in we slap each others’ shoulders and butts

then turn like a flock of barn swallows, you know our ancestors
were farmers, they had barns, they watched the birds
flying around in formation at sunset,

or a school of fish, you know the way fish dart
in unison, the way the tempo changes and they just bat off,
you can’t begin to guess how they do it.  You could say

we slosh like waves in a bathtub, back and forth,
and when we dunk one it feels good, but
the way we play it, there are no pauses in this game.

More by Alicia Ostriker

psalm

I am not lyric any more
I will not play the harp
for your pleasure

I will not make a joyful
noise to you, neither
will I lament

for I know you drink 
lamentation, too,
like wine

so I dully repeat
you hurt me
I hate you

I pull my eyes away from the hills
I will not kill for you
I will never love you again

unless you ask me 

Exile

The downward turning touch
the cry of time
fire falling without sound
plunge my hand in the wound

children marching and dying
all that I do is a crime
because I do not reach
their mouths silently crying

my boychild reaches with his mouth
it is easy, being a mother
his skin is tender and soft
kisses stitch us together

we love as long as we may
then come years without kisses
when he will turn away
not to waste breath

when I too will fall
embracing a pillow at night
touching the stone of exile
reaching my hand to death

Insomnia

But it's really fear you want to talk about
and cannot find the words
so you jeer at yourself

you call yourself a coward
you wake at 2 a.m. thinking failure,
fool, unable to sleep, unable to sleep

buzzing away on your mattress with two pillows
and a quilt, they call them comforters,
which implies that comfort can be bought

and paid for, to help with the fear, the failure
your two walnut chests of drawers snicker, the bookshelves mourn
the art on the walls pities you, the man himself beside you

asleep smelling like mushrooms and moss is a comfort
but never enough, never, the ceiling fixture lightless
velvet drapes hiding the window

traffic noise like a vicious animal
on the loose somewhere out there—
you brag to friends you won't mind death only dying

what a liar you are—
all the other fears, of rejection, of physical pain,
of losing your mind, of losing your eyes,

they are all part of this!
Pawprints of this! Hair snarls in your comb
this glowing clock the single light in the room