Basketball-Hoop-Height

“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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 Let me begin my first post of 2013 by saying that I hate New Year’s Resolutions.  I never make them and I get uncomfortable when people begin to talk about them. It’s like talking to someone with a booger hanging out of his nose; it’s awkward and embarrassing for both of you. Personally, I can never find time over the holiday season to reflect on what truly needs to change in my life and how I am going to do it effectively and for the long-term. Who can think straight with eggnog, peanut M & Ms and sugar cookies at your fingertips? Companies don’t hold major strategy sessions in December. They hold parties and give bonuses! I try to be as kind to myself as I am to my employees, or would be if I had any.

 In that spirit, I am tabling any discussion of “resolutions” for a later date. Until then, let’s talk television.

One of my favorite shows of 2012 was “Homeland” on Showtime. If you haven’t seen it, let me summarize it briefly for you: Carrie Mathison, played by the fearsome Claire Danes, is a CIA agent, whose mission in life is to catch terrorists who want to attack her beloved USA. Carrie is tough, talented, insightful and excellent at her job. Carrie is also bi-polar, spotty about taking her medicine, and has recently undergone electro-shock therapy. I know it sounds crazy so far, but the writers make it work. The audience believes in Carrie, her insights and methods, because she is never wrong. When every Chief Knucklehead at the CIA doubts her decisions, or refuses to follow up on one of her leads, we all shake our heads in collective disbelief. Apart from willful obstinacy, why would you doubt someone who is always right?

Eric Deggens, a TV critic from Florida, named this phenomenon PDS: Persistent Disbelief Syndrome. He called it a cheap trick that good writers shouldn’t rely on. Its use isn’t limited to “Homeland” either. PDS is a mainstay of CBS’s “Elementary,” and USA’s “Psych,” among others. According to Deggens, there is no reason for characters who are so consistently right to be so consistently doubted. He concludes, “In the era of excellent series like ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Homeland,’ why do producers turn, time and again, to the simple crutch of Persistent Disbelief Syndrome?”

I think I know why and I don’t think it’s a cheap trick.

PDS isn’t just a storyteller’s gimmick. PDS lies at the core of human nature. We doubt what we can’t see for ourselves, what we don’t understand, what we didn’t discover on our own. There may be exceptions to the rule, but they are primarily limited to scientific principles.

No matter how many times I am right about directions, my husband still doubts my ability to get us there. No matter how many times Tim predicts trouble when our kids start to wrestle, I let it happen anyway, only to have clean up the wreckage shortly thereafter. No matter how many times we urge our kids to put on shoes before they go outside to play, they ignore us, only to frequently hobble back inside a few minutes later with a stubbed toe, or a bee sting in their heel.

Nowhere is Persistent Disbelief Syndrome more prevalent than in our relationship with God. The Hebrew Scriptures are rife with stories of the Israelites forgetting who Yahweh is and what Yahweh has done for them. From freeing them from slavery to sending them manna from heaven and water from a rock, the Israelites continued to doubt that God will care for them. The New Testament shows that the followers of Jesus do no better. Though Peter witnessed miracles, healings and conversions, and even the transfiguration, he still jumped ship the moment Jesus’ story took a dangerous turn. The Apostle “Doubting” Thomas could be the patron saint of PDS (though we might call it Perpetual Doubt Syndrome in his case).

Over and over again, the scriptures ask us to “Be not afraid,” but that is easier said than done. Fear dissipates only where trust prevails and sometimes, it is really, really hard to trust God. How many loved ones have we lost before their time? How many once-cherished beliefs have been stripped away? How many hopes and dreams have been unmet, leaving us disappointed and lost? Those are ripe conditions for PDS to flourish. When someone consistently disappoints our expectations, credibility becomes an issue, even if he, or she is never wrong about the one thing

To avoid chronic PDS, I have to remind myself frequently that I can trust God about the one thing. I have not yet faced a situation I could not deal with, an obstacle I could not surmount, a hardship I could not grow and learn from when I have trusted in and aligned myself with the power of Love. But it is still hard.

“Love never fails,” a wise man once wrote; what fails is our ability to trust in that Love. And when we doubt, like Carrie’s coworkers on “Homeland,” all hell breaks loose. We go after the wrong target; we leave dangerous people in trusted positions; we make poor decisions based on our own limited perspective. Relying on our own imagination to decide what’s possible, what’s good and just in every situation, we are bound to screw up. But if we can get past our PDS and trust the Love that always seems to get it right, we’ve got a shot at saving our hearts, our lives, and maybe even our very homeland.