This poem is for my mother, who taught me to love basketball.

Women Watching Basketball by Marisa de los Santos

For us, five writers, it’s partly
to do with the language, little spells,
hyphenated, elegant lingo,

words swirling like whiskey in the mouth:
pump-fake, post-up, two-guard,
pick-and-roll. We are casual.

Like Whitman–who’d have been a fan
for sure, adoring and bearded,
tossing his hat in the air

for the Knicks–we speak passwords
primeval, we enter this world
and belong. With adamant hands,

we argue calls, how best
to beat the double-team, the beauty
of an inside-outside game.

And, too, it’s the players themselves
that attract us, their lives, loose-
linked fragments of story

each of us seeks and collects:
the guard’s murdered father, the tranquil
center’s Muslim faith,

ten-thousand winter coats
the rookie gave to children.
But, still, it’s more than all

that. Oh, how to explain
why you love what you love?
Picture time-lapse photography,

the certain outward opening
of flowers, one circle of petals
at a time, a smooth unfisting

called to life by notes sounded
somewhere in the clenched heart,
the thirsty root-tips, the body

of the moist earth. Exhalation
of a long-held breath. Green
stem, delicate tendon,

twisting toward the sun.
Because it’s like that,
a little, the turn-around fade-away

jumper. Though we know the ethereal
nicknames: Magic, Dream, Air,
what we want most is pure

corpus, sharp tug of tricep
and hamstring, five fingers’ grip
on the ball–hard, perfect star–

back muscles singing, glorious
climb through the air. We imagine
it this way: to dunk would be life

from the bones out, would be
to declare, Divine is the flesh!
and for once to believe it, believe it.

April is National Poetry Month. Marisa de los Santo’s new novel came out this week. And Go Tarheels!

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