Old Men Playing Basketball

By B. H. Fairchild b. 1942
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, “Old Men Playing Basketball” from The Art of the Lathe. Copyright © 1998 by B. H. Fairchild. Reprinted with the permission of Alice James Books.

Source: Poetry (July 1993).

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This poem originally appeared in the July 1993 issue of Poetry magazine

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July 1993
 B. H. Fairchild

Biography

B.H. Fairchild was born in 1942 in Houston, Texas, and grew up in small towns in Texas and Kansas. The son of a lathe operator, he attended the University of Kansas and the University of Tulsa. His poetry explores the empty landscapes of the region of his birth, and the lives of its working-class residents, including his own family and friends. Frequently described as a poet of the “sacred,” Fairchild’s work has gained renown . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, Sports & Outdoor Activities, Living, Growing Old

Poetic Terms Imagery, Mixed

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