Balls

Each time my father threw the tennis ball to me in the rain,

and I tore a dry line along the puddled street and caught it before it hit the Bryant’s mailbox,

something in me started to ricochet with this feeling that I could move between raindrops

of self-doubt and accomplish anything,

though now I think that was just me wanting to be loved for all I couldn’t do,

like that time, when after giving the last shot to our center in the basketball championship,

a play coach told me to make,

I got the rebound from his brick

and then put it back up and also missed the window,

an airball that got me ten laps around the Green Street gym in front of cheering parents who

couldn’t understand how a 5th grader could be railroaded for doing what he was told.

He’d publicly gone over the line.

And besides, the way I saw it, I did it his way, and it didn’t work.

Naturally, then, I thought there’d be no foul in doing it my way in the last throw-away

second of the game, and, not that it matters, but my way also didn’t work.

I finished my laps and skipped the pizza party, riding on the back of my middle finger toward

his upturned hands like a two-one-two defense that should have gone one-to-one

by the end of the first quarter, while my Nike Airs walked me out the door with a slam.

That was the last time I played competitive basketball, or really anything organized.

Even after coach came over to the house and apologized to me for being illogical

in front of my parents, begging me to come back to the team dribbling my balls between my legs,

I couldn’t bounce back only to pick him up.

Sure, he taught me how to win, how to trap and outrun a great player,

until all they felt capable of was fouling everything up and giving the game away,

balling after being sent to the bench for the first time, and for this I’m as grateful as

a one-flippered seal.

But like I do every time I find myself not living up to the blastoma-sized expectation

that I have to grow faster than I can think and blindly win for everybody,

I remember it was me, who, emotionally precocious from winning too many domestic wars

after learning how to yes but before I could grow arm hair, coached my coach on how to

powerfully lose.

Besides, telling him no thank you on my clock and seeing the leathery look on his face

when I told him that, sort of made me feel we both knew I’d won the game.

Author: Chris Russell

Chris Russell holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Concord, New Hampshire where he follows two paths: a calling as a poet, and an altruistic vocation as an education support professional.