Day 7: “The Cadence of Silk”


“The Cadence of Silk” excerpt

…I was hooked on the undulant ballet
of the pattern offense, on the set play
back-door under the basket, and, at times,
even on the auctioneer’s pace and elocution
of play-by-play man. Now I watch
the Lakers, having returned to Los Angeles
some years ago, love them even more than
the Seattle team, long since broken up and aging.
The Lakers are incomparable, numerous
options for any situation, their players
the league’s quickest, most intelligent,
and, it is my opinion, frankly, the most cool.
Few bruisers, they are sleek as arctic seals,
especially the small forward
as he dodges through the key, away from
the ball, rubbing off his man on the screen,
setting for his shot. Then, slick as spit,
comes the ball from the point guard,
and my man goes up, cradling the ball
in his right hand like a waiter balancing
a tray piled with champagne in stemmed glasses,
cocking his arm and bringing the ball
back behind his ear, pumping, letting fly then
as he jumps, popcorn-like, in the corner,
while the ball, launched, slung dexterously
with a slight backspin, slashes through
the basket’s silk net with a small,
sonorous splash of completion.

Garret Hongo is a Japanese-American Pulitzer-Prize winning poet and academic.

I was in graduate school when I heard my first “sports poem,” (besides the obligatory “Casey at Bat.”) Being a typical literary snob, I had low expectations when a fellow student got up to read a “poem about baseball” he’d written. Instead, I was transfixed and transported to a game in media res (in the middle of the action). Since that time, I’ve always kept an ear out for good sports poems and when it comes to sports poetry, the ear is key. To be fully appreciated, it must be experienced out loud. Give it a go with the poem above, and watch how the rhythm and cadence bring the action to life. Sports poetry is the best – bar none – at using onomatopoeia. (Of course that’s just a fancy word for saying that the word sounds a lot like the sound the word is describing. Listen for it in the lines above!)

I gravitated towards “Silk,” since I grew up watching Lakers basketball in its heyday, the “Showtime” Hongo describes in this poem. It is one of the strongest associations I have with my dad: his devotion to NBA basketball and the Lakers in particular. Magic, Kareem, Worthy, and Byron felt like friends who could have dropped by for dinner any night and I still recall classic lines from Chick Hearn, their play-by-play man. In the time before DVRs, Netflix and a TV in every room, my Dad would commandeer the family room and whether we were paying attention or not, we would be captivated by the smack of a blocked shot, the screech of rubber soles on the varnished floor, the thump of the dribble, the swish of a perfect shot, the shrill whistle of a ref’s call , or even the silent flash of Magic Johnson’s enormous grin. This poem reminds me of the countless hours I spent watching a sport I loved, but never had the skills to play. (For the record, my dad did. His ability to still dunk in his forties gave me all sorts of street cred on the playground.)
We often associate poetry with love, vulnerability, and softness, but it wasn’t always that way. All the first poets were men, writing about war and violence, immortality and tragedy. Remember The Iliad and The Odyssey, the epics we were supposed to understand in high school? I’m glad the genre expanded, but I’m also glad that sports poetry carries on, highlighting the beauty and grace of bodies in competition.  



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  1. TK must love this poem, as he loves the Lakers. I like
    the similes used in it – “slick as spit”; “popcorn” like jumping, and the waiter holding the tray of champagne glasses. I don’t think I have read a sports poem before and although I don’t agree with his assertions about the Lakers, it drew me in. There should be a poem out there about LeBron….now that man is the essence of basketball!


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