Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Pickup

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.

Credit


From No Heaven (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by Alicia Ostriker. Used with the permission of the poet.

Author


Alicia Ostriker

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1937, Alicia Ostriker has been a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. She currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Date Published: 2019-10-28

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/pickup