With tar still sludging our fingers from roofing
jobs worked through the heat of day, with scratches
down our forearms from cutting brush,
with sunburned backs, poison ivy riding
our sore calves, behind the old legion
hut, around a pole over a patch
of cracked concrete illuminated
by one leaning lamppost and an August
moon twenty years ago: hoops.
Far from city ball, if we dribbled too far the bounce
smothered in gravel and dirt, but we kept
close to the pole and counted anything off
the concrete as three.
Tonight I’m watching basketball on TV
with the sound turned down, and hear instead the rubber
pounding into baked concrete beneath
the broken windows of the abandoned hut,
June bugs bouncing off the yellow light.
I let my eyes fall shut and see us jostling,
bumping, reaching across to steal
the ball, breaking for the basket, battling
over limited territory.
We played because we had nowhere else
to be or because work had worn us
to bare sleeplessness. Or we played to stay gone
until an empty bottle dropped from someone’s
And from this distance I know what
is going to happen: one of us will go
to war and return with an empty sleeve.
Another will lose a child and grieve tearlessly,
his whole life an eroding city under a coarse
cloud of dust . The rest of us will drift
off to jobs or jail, off to divorces
and the rusty nail of small humiliations, moving
apart as silently and subtly as sluggish continents.
Looking back now, I see us there pushing, posting
up, tugging on sweaty t-shirts,
and I don’t know if we are attempting to keep
each other away from the basket
or desperately trying to hold one another inside
that thin circle of light.
Originally published in This Land, Vol. 6, Issue 4, February 15, 2015.