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One time a zillion years ago I played on a basketball team
On which eight players had ponytails and our burly center
Had a beard reminiscent of old Walt Whitman or Melville.
We looked like the chorus at a Hassidic hipster convention.
It was funny enough that we all had hair flying in the wind
When we went zooming off on fast breaks, and that Bobby,
Our deft center, looked like U.S. Grant banging the boards,
But the twist was that our coach, Mister Wilson, was Army
Through and through with a buzzcut like a newmown lawn.
He was pained, we could see, that he had to play the freaks,
And he detested the way we played, prone to turnovers and
Essentially wishing only to run like maniacs and try passes
That were not as yet technically possible on this wild earth,
And the poor man would carefully set up intricate play sets,
Sketching them neatly in red and green on his plastic board,
And we would all nod happily, hands on hips, dripping salt,
And then as soon as the whistle blew do whatever we liked
At the highest speed possible. And we did stuff deliberately
To drive him nuts, like call timeout to restore our hairbands
And each game make a ridiculous turnover just to see if we
Could make him make that strangled choking moaning sigh.
At the time we thought we were being cool rebellious guys,
Striking hilarious blows against The Man and his discipline,
His regimentation, his greedy demand for order and pattern,
But now I think we were maybe meaner than we ever knew.
We were just teenagers, heedless and selfish, all too normal,
You have to be an idiot before you can desist being an idiot,
But now I see Mister Wilson, fedora hat surfing his crewcut,
Always wearing a suit even when running practice sessions,
That pained wince on his face as we deliberately threw wild,
And I get a sense of what made him wince: all that graceful
Athleticism, all that sweet energy, all that possible creativity,
All that wild juice that, bottled, might have made great wine.
I guess he was all of forty then, old Mister Wilson, and three
Days a week he left his wife and kids and house and gave us
What he had, and we threw it away, laughing. The best thing
About turnovers, though, is that you always get the ball back.