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for Ali, on her birthday

You should see it: out in the field, a gang
of waxwings swarming low over corn stubble
converging in the field, perching in the trees,
screeches metal sheets rubbing over the river.
They swoop in the sky as a single organism:
Escher dance of white body to black, one huge bird
in flight now a thousand on the ground—waving,
wings in unison, a distinct whouck like laundry
snapped taut as they turn and bank in the late
afternoon light. Have I ever told you how
in the airport my father ran into David Thompson,
our favorite basketball player? “Skywalker”—
the skinny rocket-legged forward who dunked
on the heads of slow-footed seven-footers. They’d bumped
into each other in line for coffee, he’d always say,
sitting down for a few moments of light banter.
Two elegant, tall men—the poet and the athlete.
I was thinking about this the other day when I found
an old faded red-white-and-blue aba basketball
trapped in a tree branch, bobbling in the river’s hands.
I was brooding on my father, who died on this day
nine years ago, so fished the ball out and brought it
to you. Can you decipher this childhood talisman,
made slick first by hands and hardcourt then water?
Will you help me bury it in these woods by the river?
When I return to the corn the day is newly written
and the waxwings have given way to crows marauding
in the trees, lost in a mystery play, a floating crap game
of complaint, my old friends. Here’s what the men
must have said. First: “How do you dance along
that thin strip of baseline like that, brother?” Then:
“How do you sketch words in the sky so birds come
together to rant inside the clouds?” “It’s easy:
I’m just a reporter standing at the edge of the field,
waiting out the tornado.” “That’s funny, sometimes
I’m a hawk swooping, others a bassline pulsing.
The ball disappears in my hands.” “Yes, yes, it’s as if
vision goes so fast into its next correct place
that you meet it coming back.” “When you jump up
you are really two forces converging.” “Passion is all
the body needs for intelligence.” I say: “Sometimes
the wind hinders, sometimes the wind helps.”
Skywalker laughs. Then: “I’ll miss my flight.”
Dad: “Good luck tonight. Don’t let Dr. J go off
in the third.” I turn the bend in the river, dog out
ahead on the prowl, your face conjured,
and blow out as inspired breath a kiss to you.