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Friday, March 18, 2011

Number 98: B.H. Fairchild "Old Men Playing Basketball"

Old Men Playing Basketball

The heavy bodies lunge, the broken language
of fake and drive, glamorous jump shot
slowed to a stutter. Their gestures, in love
again with the pure geometry of curves,

rise toward the ball, falter, and fall away.
On the boards their hands and fingertips
tremble in tense little prayers of reach
and balance. Then, the grind of bone

and socket, the caught breath, the sigh,
the grunt of the body laboring to give
birth to itself. In their toiling and grand
sweeps, I wonder, do they still make love

to their wives, kissing the undersides
of their wrists, dancing the old soft-shoe
of desire? And on the long walk home
from the VFW, do they still sing

to the drunken moon? Stands full, clock
moving, the one in army fatigues
and houseshoes says to himself, pick and roll,
and the phrase sounds musical as ever,

radio crooning songs of love after the game,
the girl leaning back in the Chevy’s front seat
as her raven hair flames in the shuddering
light of the outdoor movie, and now he drives,

gliding toward the net. A glass wand
of autumn light breaks over the backboard.
Boys rise up in old men, wings begin to sprout
at their backs. The ball turns in the darkening air.

-- B. H. Fairchild

Hap Notes: One of the many reasons I like poetry about sports (in addition to the slight edge of shadenfreude I feel when "sports guys" are shocked and slightly pained that there is such a thing) is the melding of the everyday and the body with the intellect. No poet deftly welds these things quite like B.H. Fairchild (born 1942) who manages to take a working class background and show us the poetry which lurks underneath the most common of experiences. He deftly illustrates why "common" is a word which means both something quotidian and something shared.

Fairchild was born in Houston and grew up around the oil fields of Oklahoma and Texas. His dad was a lathe machinist and he worked for his dad as he went through high school and college. He uses words the way a tool and die man uses machinery, in order to get a precise cut. He files the words like a jig grinder and this careful craftsmanship yields stunning results.

Fairchild taught literature at a number of universities, mostly in the heartland of Kansas and Texas (yes, I think Texas is part of the heartland- it's so full of music it has to be part of the heart.) He came to prominence as a writer with his book on the music of Blake's poetry and it is well worth a read or two: Such Holy Song: Music as Idea, Form, and Image in the Poetry of William Blake. (We'll get to Blake- I dropped the ball on that a week ago. I'll blame it on my jury duty but it's really because I haven't thought it out well enough to write about him yet.)

As to the poem, I love the beautiful details, the "glass wand" of light, the image of kissing the underside of the wrist, the houseshoes, the VFW's basketball hoop. I want those guys to fly up to the basket, don't you? Remember when you sang to the "drunken moon"?

Here's a good Fairchild quote taken from an essay her wrote for Poems Out Loud which you can find : "I was drawn specifically to the writing of poems because, growing up among skilled laborers and artisans, people for whom the precise making of a thing was vital, I had a natural admiration for precision."

You can find more Fairchild here:

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