Wednesday, May 21, 2008

TWR Gives the People What They Want: Basketball Poems

AS INTERESTING AS BASKETBALL and basketball players may be in the present, in retrospect, they can take on entirely new nuances. Below are two poems by established writers (Edward Hirsch and John Updike) each of which focuses less on basketball and more on basketball players. Hirsch's wonderful poem, written in energetic couplets, mimics the pace of a fast break. In fact, it's one single sentence pushed to the end.

Updike's now classic poem examines the gap between the glory of the basketball player and the reality of the ex-basketball player.

Both poems merge the excitement of the game's present-ness with the humanness of those who play the game.

Several readers liked the Sherman Alexie basketball poem I featured in a recent post. Follow this link to one of his best poems--and of the great basketball poems, "Defending Walt Whitman" that appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal.

Now, to Hirsch and Updike . . .

Edward Hirsch

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 though the net.

John Updike

Pearl Avenue runs past the high-school lot,
Bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off
Before it has a chance to go two blocks,
At Colonel McComsky Plaza. Berth’s Garage
Is on the corner facing west, and there,
Most days, you'll find Flick Webb, who helps Berth out.

Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps—
Five on a side, the old bubble-head style,
Their rubber elbows hanging loose and low.
One’s nostrils are two S’s, and his eyes
An E and O. And one is squat, without
A head at all—more of a football type.

Once Flick played for the high-school team, the Wizards.
He was good: in fact, the best. In ’46
He bucketed three hundred ninety points,
A county record still. The ball loved Flick.
I saw him rack up thirty-eight or forty
In one home game. His hands were like wild birds.

He never learned a trade, he just sells gas,
Checks oil, and changes flats. Once in a while,
As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,
But most of us remember anyway.
His hands are fine and nervous on the lug wrench.
It makes no difference to the lug wrench, though.

Off work, he hangs around Mae’s Luncheonette.
Grease-gray and kind of coiled, he plays pinball,
Smokes those thin cigars, nurses lemon phosphates.
Flick seldom says a word to Mae, just nods
Beyond her face toward bright applauding tiers
Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads.

1 comment:

  1. Ooooh, the Ex-Basketball Player. I was just getting ready to email this one to you, Dean. I wrote a paper on this one in undergrad, in fact. Plus, I just love any mention of Necco Wafers and Juju Beads.