Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Poems Katie Couric Would Like: Brian Clements, "Basketball Benediction"

IN HONOR OF HER good work in the Sarah Palin interviews, TWR features another round of its smashing new series, "Poems Katie Couric Would Like." True, it's a basketball poem, but it's one that is funny, accessible, and sympathetic to the perils of aging. The poet, Brian Clements, incorporates long lines and lists of names reminiscent of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsburg.

One of the many things I like about this poem is how Clements conflates the personal with the public. Friends (Anthony Headly & Tom/Pat) are just as present in the poet's memory as icons like Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Sometimes, nostalgia trumps celebrity.

Blogger is not a great tool for posting poems, but I hope the energy and expansiveness of Clements' text comes across.


And soon will come the time, when the knees have taken on the
permanent aspect
of Willis Reed’s ankle forever frozen in stiff-legged memory

To wave goodbye to basketball… Goodbye! Goodbye to shin splints
and sweatsox up to here like the Ice Man used to wear with the short
shorts on top of those spindles knee up and coming at your chin like
Tony Headley’s elbows when he used to do his Moses Malone in the back yard (butt poke, elbow, straight to the board)

Goodbye to the blacktop right after Game 7 wishing just once for that kind of air or, hell, just to be able to play baseball as well as Jordan or
even Ainge though
I’m pretty sure I can golf as well as Barkley probably gamble better too

Goodbye to the turn-around to the baseline that I copied from Hakeem
when he was
Akeem Olajuwan in the old SWC I always thought Larry Michaux was a
mofo and Clyde the Glide always smoother than shinola but never
up when it mattered and the time I saw Guy Lewis in the lobby of the Parker Meridian, “Hey, Coach Lewis!” “Hey young man, how’re you?” he seemed a hell of a lot nicer
than on TV but never did he have as sour a puss as Old Abe Lemmons who must have been
born 80 years old with crabs up his ass

Goodbye to Weepy Simms so curly haired and sad faced he looked like Lenny Wilkens on
the side about to cry on Jack Sikma’s shoulder I don’t know a damned thing about
Lenny Wilkens personally but he always looked like he was ready to quit just
quit it all goodbye, goodbye, and goodbye

Goodbye to my 20-inch vertical leap and good riddance of Larry Bird his Indiana St. never
should have made it to the Final Four cheesy ass travel call when US Reed was
tripped let Bob Heaton come down and bump a fifteen footer around the rim,
fall lucky in I’d rather see Magic Fucking Johnson hit a half-court hook shot
every year to win the championship than Larry Bird a single time

Kareem! Abdul! Jabarr!

Which brings to mind Chris Jackson Mahmoud Abdul Raouf goodbye to him I miss his
jumper from the top of the key he was hot shit at LSU with Shaq
or was he before Shaq not great in the pros but I tried to pull
my feet up for a while like Chris Jackson Mahmoud Abdul
Raouf I don’t like to sing the national anthem either

Goodbye to the wristband and the sweatband and goodbye to Bill Walton of the similarly
gimpy knee I once heard Walton on TV mention Paul Arizin as though speaking
of an Avatar of Vishnu who the hell is Paul Arizin?

Goodbye to the clothesline, the nutgrab, the shortpull, the titty pinch. These all are your
legacy, dirty guy I played with in Binghamton, and yours as well, Kevin McHale!

Goodbye to the fantasy All-Star game we used to play on 4t St. in Sonny Campbell’s
driveway I barely knew how to play but I knew who the hell Wilt Chamberlain and
Rick Barry were and Barry Heinley was the tallest so he was Chamberlain and that
may have been an appropriate casting a few years later I saw him once
at the mall kissing two girls at once and whoever got picked last had to be Rick Barry
and shoot free throws underhanded (Goodbye to the underhanded free throw) an
old guy down the street used to come by and play when we needed one
and always wanted to be Jerry West



Goodbye to the scattershot point guards I usually have to guard like Chris Haven or that
little guy I played against at the Boy’s Club who moved laterally across the lane
faster than I can lift a hand I got to see Tiny Archibald play his last year or two and
sometimes I imagine Hal Greer played that way though I also sometimes imagine Hal
Greer lumbering something like Rosie off the stage and onto the floor after Sirhan
Sirhan and shouting the gun

Goodbye Tom/Pat I know we played a few times though I can’t remember much about your
game except perhaps that you moved well without the ball and that you’d gun it up
from anywhere and that too soon you left Pistol Pat

Goodbye to 98 degrees Arkansas pickup games so sweaty you can’t pick up the ball so much
sweat in my eyes it took me a while to realize that the star of the UCA Bears was in
the game, kid named Scottie Pippen Goodbye Scottie—we all need
a Scottie Pippen

Goodbye to the pick and roll I don’t even have to put the names here you know who
they are unlike say Isaiah Thomas what the hell was so great about Isaiah Thomas if
he didn’t have Dumars and Laimbeer would he have been any better than Gary
Payton hell or Mookie Blaylock a one-time six category guy Goodbye Mookie
Blaylock formerly of Garland, Texas and namesake of a kid my wife taught in
first grade Goodbye Mookie!

Goodbye to the six foot eight guy with a pony tail a writer whose name I can’t remember
Patton or something like that the inevitable big guy who thinks he’s a shooting guard
and refuses to step foot in the paint as though the Admiral were down there just
waiting for his ass to come within ten feet I love that Goodbye wimpy big guys!




Goodbye to the cocky big guy in the church league in Dallas who took pleasure in dunking in
a no-dunk church league I didn’t go to church but I did enjoy the church league
except for Big Daddy Diesel here come down among the mortals I wished Kevin
McHale had been around to punch him in the nuts even though it was a church league

Goodbye to the guy with a waist the size of half a gallon of milk who rose above me on a
breakaway in a pickup game at UT ball extended to the heavens like he held up the
sun and fired the ball through the net without touching the rim like a solar flash it was
a thing of beauty I always wondered what it would be like to be dunked on by Dr. J
Thank You skinny UT student and Goodbye!

Goodbye to the basketball politician, the basketball broadcaster, the basketball executive but
Goodbye too to the basketball dentist, the basketball plumber, the basketball maker of
tool and dye. In your minds and in mine you all are Earl the Pearl and Clyde Frazier
combined not really but it’s nice to say so Hey did you ever notice on Knicks games
that Clyde uses funny words Goodbye Clyde’s funny words

Goodbye to the little guy who used to block my shot every time I turned to the right you’d
think he was Bill Russell Goodbye to Bill Russell you seem like a very nice man I
would like to have had my shot packed by you and Goodbye to George Mikan you
too were probably pretty nice though in film your game looks like my Dad’s shooting
semihooks over the backboard I’m sure you never shot it over the backboard

And goodbye to all the other guys including the girls I ever played with I didn’t like some of
you but some of you I loved to see curling around a pick at the free throw line
ducking head down and shuffling toward the basket I didn’t even have to look just
knew you’d be there sweet that’s probably what it was like playing with Parrish or
Unseld or Hayes maybe even no not Ewing but KAREEM ABDUL JABAAR! there
are some other guys who were great but I’d feel dishonest mentioning them because I
never saw them play even on tape just saw them on Lectric Shave commercials or
HAVLICEK STOLE THE BALL! I’m sure Oscar Robertson must have been great
just look at those numbers but the Big O that fills my mind is Oliver Miller dishing to
a cutting Big Nasty Goodbye Big O and Big O Goodbye Big Nasty

And goodbye in the end to the bonehead move and the jubilation in its wake; if only in that
game in junior high when I scrambled on the floor and came up throwing to the
opposing coach I’d been the James Worthy and not the Fred Brown whole lives might
have been changed Goodbye, Fred Brown I’ll be with you in the annals of infamy
with my flat-footed jumper and my flag crew D and with Phi Slamma Jamma and the
New Orleans Jazz and with the greatest never to win big I’ll be there with you soon
Fred Brown and with the candy-ass Mavericks and the missed-chance Suns and with
sadsack C Webb in perpetual time out

1 comment:

  1. Brian, loved the ode. Anyone who has ever "laced them up" knows the people you write about. My faves in the last few years are "Walt," a 60-plus-year-old sharpshooter who cries if you think about playing tough on him; Ivan, a stocky ugly point guard most would underestimate and former governor Jerry Brown, who has a release point near his knees on his old-school set shot.