I must be a shorter man for never having played you well enough. Height had to be the issue. I’m not sure if you recall, but in Space Jam, Bill Murray said that Larry Bird wasn’t white, he was clear. I’m not sure if anybody really buys that, but I see his point—Bird was so damn good passing the ball he could almost pass for black, if Indiana, the state, wasn’t suspect in that way. I guess I’m trying to say that I’m not sure if race matters in a place where nearly everybody looks like me like with the NBA. Sure, there was Donald Sterling, and still, a someone-like somewhere, but that’s ownership, right? That’s not The Game, not you who loves rims tightened to even odds; that whole ownership dynamic just makes you one of us in my eyes—we been there and done that and still that in some ways, I hate to say it, to the law, but hopefully to love, unconditional, like the way I feel for you, enough so that I could write these few words that are still not poetry enough to describe the electric shocks contorting Magic’s face in such a way that it looks as if he’s happy when he runs the fast break, or the move Michael makes to break away from a defender, tongue out on the takeoff in the lane, play-by-play on the radio as we drive, my folks and me, past shirtless boys playing on a public park court where somebody might have died for something as meaningful as looking in your direction with a twinkle in his eyes, her eyes. Well, tell: when that happens, do you have body enough to cry? Does your roundball head dribble, have phantom pains when thinking of them like a foul call that was a wrong call that cost your most favorite team a crucial playoff game? But I guess that’d be a choice then—since you are The Game, a small god some of us pray to, fall prey to as we fall prey to a world that don’t believe in you, statistical long shot, quite the way we do and sometimes got to just to survive all this and stave through: black kids, block kids, short kids, tall kids, all kids that are expected to fail as society designed for them to.
It Appears Somebody Has Lost Their Whole World
The wind stirs up a hiss with fallen leaves, dragging them across the pavement like a knee, or an elbow, or a face.
Walk to the park, walk the playground and listen closely— the swing set’s hinges sawing the silence in half, into a before and an after, and yet there’s no laughter on the second side, no sign of children at play, other than an echo, a sound-fossil set upon a pendulum scheme that, too, will eventually pass.
Two questions need asking here. First: what happened to all the little boys? Second: what did they do to all the little girls and does anybody really care?
The tiny craters in the blacktop provide valuable clues, argue, maybe, the boys finally became men, engorged on an inner-fire like terminally ill stars, bloated, expanded before exploding and cutting off electricity to the sky.
I can see it now: one fist becoming five unfurled fingers constricting his throat like a boa or python, and from there, the logical escalation, a move that took the whole world, a galaxy into a hole not more than a few millimeters wide.
On Developing a Shooter’s Touch
My right arm straight, hand hieroglyphed at the wrist in proper form: I watch the ball twist a gaping wound through the stale gym air, cutting a pathway to the rim.
It was a moment of consequence.
Not to the world in any grand sense. Not to my team, which probably lost the game. Not to all the parents fencing the baselines as if boards of maple wood like those composing the courts we were playing on. No, it was significant to me, taught me something about myself, showed me what I didn’t know rested deep within me--
my stomach suspended in the vacuum of my own surprise as I fell gracefully from the apex of my jump, leaving fresh breaths untaken like a pick from my teammate near the top of the key I bypassed.
Before anyone could confirm hit or miss of the target, my coach rushed the floor in the middle of the chaos, embraced me in an outpouring of pride, bringing my tiny body into his chest like a lead bit, but I was still in shock from the whole episode, the hoop vibrating on its rusty screws from the blow of the ball, a sound I interpreted as a metallic crying, a form of grieving.
The first shot is always out of character.
That’s what folks say on the news in all those on-scene TV interviews; that’s what I know to be true, from first- hand experience, as well as the fact that if you’re any good at it, you keep on shooting. Shooting. Shooting.
-- Cortney Lamar Charlestonis the author of Telepathologies, selected by D.A. Powell for the 2016 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. A recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, The Conversation Literary Festival and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, his poems have appeared in POETRY, New England Review, Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, River Styx and elsewhere.