Various and Sundry Poetry

first love

In her mind’s eye, she is perennially 12, eyeing the basketball court, white sneakers on parquet, shorts hugging her thighs, just before the shot clock begins, all that electric possibility. She is a dreamer yes, but there is a fierceness to this particular dream, a kind of clinging. Her body, fluid but precise, her legs purposeful, trustworthy. She was not a dancer, but underneath these fluorescent lights, before an accordion of bleachers, she could dance. She remembers the strides she took down-court, how it felt like slow-motion even though it wasn’t. She remembers an animal certainty about where she needed to go for the shot. She remembers the ball like home, her body squaring to meet it.

You could say this was her first love, her first contact with something both outside and inside of herself. It was that kind of symmetry. It was that kind of longing. On Saturday mornings, when the games were held, she would arrive at the gym with a small tremble in her gut. The gym was large and loud. There were islands of chaos everywhere, but she steered through them. Game buzzers and referee whistles cut rudely through air, but she didn’t hear them. She maneuvered through these minefields as if nothing in the world could touch her, and found a spot on the sidelines to tighten her laces until she could feel the tongue of the sneakers groove into the tops of her feet. She remembers the smell of the waxed gym floor. She remembers the waistband of her shorts against her stomach. She remembers the prices burnt sienna of the basketball, its thin black stripes cutting into eighths. She remembers her hands like sticky tentacles. She remembers the freckles on her calves, the beginnings of hair on her shins and knees. She remembers the three blue stripes on the top of her socks. She remembers how hungry she was.

Twenty-five years later, she takes to the court like a cautious mother. There are others there, younger, sprightlier, braver than she. It is hard not to worry that she will get hurt. It is hard not to worry that she will get tired. It is hard not to notice the dim wash of pain in her hips, the hiccup of her legs. The sneakers are cement, trapping her ankles. Her shorts swallow her thighs. She is tall and exposed a willow tree. Now she notices everything – the hollow echoes of the gym, the harsh spotlight of the overheads, the heft of her opponent – and she has become the unwitting distraction, the perilous island she must navigate around, her body in a kind of raw anarchy, the parquet too slippery, a scene of possible disaster, but despite this, or perhaps because of it, her love stubborn and exquisite as ever.