Basketball Poems: 231 / 500


Rating: 5.0

Thirty years is a long time
Thirty years...
These streets were mine thirty years ago
I knew them all
Every turn, every alley
A young boy’s kingdom
I ruled and was king
Thirty years ago...

The leaves still fall here
Confettied remains of a bygone parade
The school is still standing
Dirty brown brick, it still hasn’t changed
The playground is haunted
By the laughing cries of children
Swing creaking slowly in the cool autumn wind
Do I sit there boy-like
Smiling at the man
Thirty years older
Thirty years gone by?

The ball diamond is empty
The dirt hasn’t changed
Chain fences still linked
Where the spectators gazed
The dreams were alive then
Like Mantle and Mays
And life was as easy as a bat and a ball
Three strikes you’re out
It’s the umpire’s call
But thirty years passes
Like the flick of a wrist
And the diamond is empty—
Save for me and the dirt.

Thirty years ago
I walked this road
Two, three times a day
From home to school and back again
And every house is where it was
And every tree seems just the same
And there on the corner: 10704
(I’d forgotten that address—thirty years is a long time...)
They painted it a god-awful yellow
But it’s still the same
We were a family then
My brother, sister, parents and I
The times were hard in ‘68
Hell, King was killed
Detroit was aflame
But we were safe
Some lived in fear
We had each other, did we know it then?

Thirty years is a long time.

The second floor there
In the back
My brother and I shared bunk beds
And I cried for hours
Alone on that bed
When they gave my dog away
The best friend I had
How could they know?
I hear him bark
Tethered by a chain to the old birch tree
A country dog, he needed to run
The city’s no place for a wilderness heart
Thirty years
And I still hear him

There’s the garage in the back of the yard
It was rickety then, it’s rickety now
And there are the holes
That held a basketball rim
We spent hours there
My brother and I
Perfecting our jumpers, hook shots, and drives
Pretending to be the great gamers themselves
But we were impostors
And I suppose we still are
Perhaps thirty years
Is not so long
After all.

As I drive away
A man, not a boy
I pass the old playground
See a man and his son
The man’s about my age
The boy—as I was
And it seems strange to think
That this father and I
Might have been classmates
Thirty years ago
Yet he has gone his way
And I have gone mine
And thirty years hence that boy will be me
And return to this playground
Look back on his life
His life but a memory
A dream, nothing more
Conceived in sweet sadness
With a flicker of hope
But destined at last
To vanish
Like smoke.

Goodbye to my childhood
Goodbye to these streets
Goodbye to the children who laughed here with me
My dog who still barks at the end of a chain
My parents much younger
My brother and me
And goodbye to the lad who stands at the plate
On a dusty old diamond
The bat high in his hands
Still waiting for a pitch
That never gets thrown.

(Previously published in Dream Forge, Jan.2000)