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Poetry  – 

Working the Post with Big Jim McKean

 

for Jon Pineda, for Kym Ragusa

The animals in this neighborhood are waiting
for someone to talk to them. Pretty soon
they’ll get the picture: we no longer know enough
to see ourselves in their daily foraging.
Or in the red-tail hawk propped like a boy’s
favorite toy on the top shelf of an old oak,
peering longingly into the mute field
of this ritzy campus. What’s this got to do
with basketball, with four aging poets
enacting a slowed-down, heat-drenched game
of two-on-two? Nothing, everything.
I’m down on the post, giving up seven inches
and fifty pounds to Big Jim McKean, who keeps
backing me down, putting me on his hip,
rotating left, right, the eight-foot hook
there every time. Lucky he’s rusty.
Who cares if he’s twenty years my senior—
he’s still got textbook moves he tried once
on a young Cassie Russell, on Kareem
when he was still Lew Alcindor. He times my shot
and swats it at the release.
This morning a rabbit blurred
back into the bushes. Tiny brown squirrels
darting under the trees. A house sparrow
pecked at field-house garbage.
Just once I get Jim, if not off his feet
then off his balance, and take him left.
When he reaches out, I show him
my younger brother lefty scoop.
But only Alan’s in shape for all this
stop and start; it’s up to him to hit his shots.
Bob’s a natural but one step off
the pick and roll. There’s nothing

to do for the three pigeons
caught inside the fenced-in power station
but offer a small prayer; to transform
the smoke alarm battery squawking all night
into a dream hawk caught in a snare.
This morning Alan used one of my poems
to show a student how he might cut
against the rhapsodic he wears
like a Hawaiian shirt. And how to—
unlike the poem’s last two lines—avoid
falling off emotion’s cliff edge. Let me
leave you not with the hawk,
nor with Jim limping doggedly off court,
but with Bob riding shotgun in someone’s car,
grinning. Outside after a long, loud dinner,
just beginning to feel sore, I stick out
my thumb jokingly for a ride. As he floats by,
Bob mouths, gleefully, “Fuck you!”
then flips me the bird.