Giant Learns to Play Basketball

What I grew to love, I grew to love in private:
not the great riot in the paint, nor the sound

fundamentals of Mikan, the Bad Boys’ grit, their brute’s
brutally set pick, not the mean mug of it all, nor

the more-than-human Jordan skying high. Instead,
while my father watched for the flex, I searched

for the odd niche of stitch, the fine design:
the ridge cresting Karl Malone’s chest, Toronto’s red

raptor emerging from plum, the teal and wine
adorning the Hornets’ kits, the chef’s kiss of Detroit’s

Camaro flare. And who didn’t love the Glove’s
Sonics relics? I loved it all—don’t tell my family—

for its geometry, the low key turned like the glossy
arc feet obeyed, for the orange skin’s spin

that blurred its lines, for the pockmarks
made to help my hand get a grip. I found the perimeter

steadying, envied where the deep three
came free of the hand, landed with a bliss of swish,

loved the game not for its shapes alone, but for symmetry’s
quiet flash. And then I played for the language,

my tickled tongue, played it to the letter: x’s and o’s,
diagram and stratagem, backdoor cut of my team’s

bread-and-butter set: Sugar Loaf. I played
for the Euro step, stutter step, step-back three,

played in elegy when a friend passed away,
when every game became an And 1. I played then for the sky

hook, fadeaway, double dribble, press. The dish,
dime, and flop, played for the alley-oop. Of course

the coach’s demands were clear: be big, be strong.
Box out. Post up. Block, reject, swat. But

I wasn’t strong. I didn’t want to bump bodies,
push people around down low. I wanted to be swift

and free. Not theirs. Not slow. I wanted to prove
I chose right when I quit the stage for the court,

the cello for free throws, traded playing scales
for running sprints. Truth is, I played the sport in order

to ride the pine. I tried my best to fit in, to be a friend
to the smaller boys beside me. But if nothing else,

I came to love a thing all on my own, for love’s
sake. I did not have to excel to know the stakes.

More from Matthew Kelsey:

Want to read the rest?
Please login.
New to Narrative? sign up.
It's easy and free.