The passing

This week I’m participating in a five-day poetry Open Write at Ethical ELA. Day One’s writing invitation, “Bodies in Motion,” was sparked by the importance of sports to so many student athletes who haven’t been able to participate—when it may be the only reason they come to school. Many feel most at home with a team, on a field, writes host Sarah J. Donovan, needing to “move their bodies to feel joy, to feel normal, to feel self.” Instead they’re confined to screens and “plexiglass cubicles.” For the Open Write we crafted poems about our own athletic experiences, or those of family members, or even about what we used to be able to do but can’t anymore.

I’ve never been athletic, not ever, in the whole of my life.

My husband, however, was.

Through him I know the vital and abiding value of sports for a young person…

Here’s a scene I witnessed recently at home.

The Passing

She comes out of his study carrying it
in her four-year-old arms
and his face is transformed, glowing
as if a passing cloud has uncovered the sun.
He leans forward in the recliner as she
drops it, kicks it, sets it spinning
—Oh, no, he says, this one’s not for kicking,
it’s for dribbling, just as the ball stops
at his feet. He reaches down, lifts it
with the easy grace of the boy on the court,
hands perfectly placed on the worn brown surface
in split-second calculation of the shot
so many times to the roar of the school crowd
so many hours with friends, his own and then
his son’s, still outscoring them all, red-faced,
heart pounding, dripping with sweat, radiant
—and at twelve, all alone on the pavement
facing the hoop his mother installed
 in the backyard of the new house
after his father died, every thump echoing
Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.
The game in the blood, the same DNA
that just last year left him with a heart full
of metal and grafts, too winded to walk
more than short distances, having to stop
to catch his breath, deflated
—it needs some air. Do you have a pump,
he asks his son, sitting there on the sofa,
eyes riveted to the screen emitting
continuous squeaks of rubber soles
against hardwood.
—Yeah, Dad. I’ve got one and the needle, too.
His father leans in to the little girl at his knee,
his battered heart in his hands:
—Would you like to have it?
She nods, grinning, reaching, her arms, her hands
almost too small to manage the old brown sphere
rolling from one to the other like a whole world


with thanks to Ethical ELA for the monthly poetry Open Writes and Two Writing Teachers for fostering a vital and abiding love of writing in students— and teachers.
Revise on.

Photo: Marcus Balcher. CC BY-SA

7 thoughts on “The passing

  1. “His battered heart in his hands”- This line led to tears. Such a beautiful, poignant poem. You captured so beautifully what basketball meant to your husband through the years and the bittersweet moment of passing that onto his granddaughter. Utterly beautiful, as always.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A wonderful poem celebrating the passing of a life, a love on to the next generation. The juxtaposition of “to catch his breath, deflated
    —it needs some air. ” is brilliant, turns the poem. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The imagery in this poem is so very strong. There is loss–of life, of ability, but there is hope, too. The balance you strike between the two is stunning, Fran. I, like you, never considered myself an athlete, have always admired those who make their bodies move which such purpose and agility. I hope your granddaughter is able to catch that glow from your husband and son.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Basketball was – is, even now – such a part of my husband’s life. I hadn’t thought of writing about that moment he gave the basketball to our granddaughter but for years the title “The Passing” has been in my mind as a possibility for stories about my grandfather’s life. When this prompt came along, I couldn’t write about my unathletic self (no material!). I needed to look no further than my own living room for the powerful impact of sports on a young person’s life. It was a sustaining force. I fell in love with the passing metaphor before I wrote the first word. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

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