Foul Shots: A Clinic

By William Matthews 1942–1997 William Matthews

                                for Paul Levitt


Be perpendicular to the basket,
toes avid for the line.

Already this description
is perilously abstract: the ball
and basket are round, the nailhead
centered in the centerplank
of the foul-circle is round,
and though the rumpled body
isn’t round, it isn’t
perpendicular. You have to draw
“an imaginary line,” as the breezy

coaches say, “through your shoulders.”
Here’s how to cheat: remember
your collarbone. Now the instructions
grow spiritual—deep breathing,
relax and concentrate both; aim
for the front of the rim but miss it
deliberately so the ball goes in.
Ignore this part of the clinic

and shoot 200 foul shots
every day. Teach yourself not to be
bored by any boring one of them.
You have to love to do this, and chances
are you don’t; you’d love to be good
at it but not by a love that drives
you to shoot 200 foul shots
every day, and the lovingly unlaunched
foul shots we’re talking about now—
the clinic having served to bring us
together—circle eccentrically
in a sky of stolid orbits
as unlike as you and I are
from the arcs those foul shots
leave behind when they go in.

William Matthews, “Foul Shots: A Clinic” from Rising and Falling. Copyright © 1979 by William Matthews. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Source: Rising and Falling (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1979)

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Poet William Matthews 1942–1997

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Activities, Sports & Outdoor Activities