- A Body of Athletics
Before every basketball game, from rec league to high school, my mother told me, Knock ’em dead. She never said, Good luck.
When Prairie Schooner asked me to solicit twenty to forty pages of writing for a “sports themed” issue, I was in a castle in Umbria, Italy, reading Pedro Salinas, writing poems and short stories, drawing hands, and drinking red wine poured from the mouth of a ceramic chicken. Outside my castle window, a flight of swallows played the sky every day, even when it rained. The word for swallow in Italian is rondine. In Puccini’s opera La Rondine, the poet Prunier talks mad game about love because he is in love with Lisette.
While I was in Italy, the nba Finals were on back home: the Cleveland Cavs and Golden State Warriors. I might or might not have been falling in love during this series. If I wasn’t, my beloved probably didn’t live in the Golden State, and she probably didn’t make movies. In this same spirit of conjecture, LeBron James, star of the Cavs, might or might not star in a remake of the movie Space Jam.
I told PS yes. I e-mailed and Facebooked writers I admire to submit anything associated with their notion of sport. I said, Feel free to blur definitions and forms.
I am still at the point in my life where I have played basketball for longer than I have not. [End Page 7]
I didn’t start reading poetry until my basketball career was over, although writing and basketball have always mixed well. The poet Tupac starred in Above the Rim and Poetic Justice. Charles Bukowski complained in a letter to the New York Quarterly editor that heterosexual males were easy targets—he cried: “White men can’t dance,” “White men can’t jump,” “White mean have no sense of rhythm”, etc … This was long before the movie White Men Can’t Jump came out. In the basketball flick Finding Forrester, Sean Connery plays the writer Forrester, a role almost given to Bill Murray who in the movie Space Jam joined Michael Jordan’s team as the fifth man so referee Marvin the Martian could not make the team forfeit the game for having too few players. Poet Jim Carroll wrote what became the movie Basketball Diaries. And Jesus Shuttlesworth of He Got Game said: Basketball is like poetry in motion, cross the guy to the left, take him back to the right, he’s fallin’ back, then just J right in his face. Then you look at him and say, “What?”
My mother had eleven kids. If we’d all survived, we’d have been a soccer team. We are nine now, enough for a baseball team. Albert Camus was on a soccer team. He was the goalkeeper. He said, After many years during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport …
I lived years on a court, in the driveway, at a park, in a gym, on a bus or plane to or from a game, in an ice bath, in a season—pre-season, inseason, off-season, post-season, next season. My brain, my muscles, my emotions—the way each triggers, fires, and responds—have been shaped by my life as an athlete. It’s hard to understand sport as game when you’ve been built by its rules, boundaries, triumphs, and failures as I have been built.
I dream of basketball all the time. In a recurring dream, my college coach, Wendy Larry, calls me back to play for her. She and I didn’t get along, but I played through many injuries for her.
Most inner-city student athletes were discouraged from going home over holiday and semester breaks, to keep us out of trouble. Their inner-city [End Page 8] and my rez meant trouble to our coaches (they apparently meant good basketball too since we were all on scholarship). So, when my grandfather died, I couldn’t go home to the funeral.
Disclosure: Trouble happened. The cops came to...