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Between Assassinations

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Old court. Old chain net hanging in frayed links from the rim,   
the metal blackboard dented, darker where the ball   
for over thirty years has kissed it, the blacktop buckling,   
the white lines nearly worn away. Old common ground   
where none of the black men warming up before the basket   
will answer or even look in my direction when I ask   
if I can run too, the chill a mutual understanding,   
one of the last we share, letting me join them here,   
if nowhere else, by not letting me forget I don’t belong.

Old court. Old courtesy, handshake, exchange of names,   
in the early days of bussing, between assassinations,   
before our quaint welcoming of them had come to seem,   
even to ourselves, the haughty overflow of wealth   
so thoroughly our own we didn’t need to see it.   
Old beautiful delusion in those courtly gestures   
that everything now beyond our wanting just to play
was out of bounds, and we were free between the white lines   
of whatever we assumed we each of us assumed.

Old court, old dream dreamed by the weave, the trap,   
the backdoor pass. Old fluid legacy, among the others,
that conjures even now within our bodies and between them   
such a useless, such an intimate forgetting, as in the moment   
when you get a step on your defender and can tell
exactly by how another man comes at you
where your own man is and, without looking, lob the ball   
up in the air so perfectly as he arrives that
in a single motion he can catch and finger roll it in.

Old court. Old dwindling cease fire, with no hope of peace,   
that we silently turn away from when the game is over,   
hurrying back (as if believing contact meant contagion)   
to our separate tribes, to the cleansing fires of what,   
despite ourselves, we momentarily forgot:
old lore, old news, old burning certitudes we can’t   
stoke high or hot enough, yet won’t stop ever stoking   
until whatever it is we think we are anneals
and toughens into an impenetrable shield.

Alan Shapiro, “Between Assassinations” from Mixed Company (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996). Copyright © 1996 by Alan Shapiro. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Source: Selected Poems 1974-1996 (The University of Chicago Press, 2000)
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Between Assassinations

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