We don't usually put poetry and sports in the same sentence- not that there aren't plenty of poems about sports and athletes. Some of the earliest poems available to us are about just that.

And looking at classical writings, the gods and goddesses seemed to have had a great interest in the games of mortals. Today some of our greatest athletes are treated like gods and goddesses. And our world-class athletes are Olympians.

Joan Murray's poem, "Play-By-Play", about a game of mens' softball being observed by three women, put me to thinking about these things. Was it the mention of the marble Naiads that sent me on a classical path? Where did I hear seduction/abduction that made me think of Cupid and Psyche? The poem is sexy without being sexual, playful but also serious.

Let's be very specific with this prompt. Begin with a sport or athlete. Like Murray, select a question to be asked about the topic. Follow Murray's lead and observe something about this situation that is so beautiful they would not have recognized themselves. Answer the question or let it lead the reader to further questions.


You know why they call it golf?
It's dusk, and they are sitting on the terrace
above the putting green.  If you look out
further, you'll see the first fairway dip down
and straight out, an invitation:  all those pines,
almost black against the pinking sky.
Right now, the sound of crickets mingles
with ice clinking in glasses.  Gin and tonic,
Campari and soda, Scotch and water.
Because shit and fuck were taken
is the answer, which makes them laugh,
even my father who at 80, does not laugh much
anymore.  But something about these scat
and sex words makes him grin like a young boy.
He is not very good at this game, and if asked
could not tell you why he plays.  It is better
not to stop and think about such things,
just as it's better to pretend that the flag
by the front door of the club is not at half mast
because another member died this week.
Better to drink and joke, keep it light.
To the left is the ninth green, the halfway mark
where wedding ceremonies are performed.
Just below, though you can't see it from here,
is the seventh hole, that short par three where
Marvin and Ruth claim to have conceived their son
when the course was empty late one day.
And over to the right is the tenth tee,
where Murray dropped dead, leaving his widow
to dine alone with the group this evening.
None of them, in fact, are any good at golf,
so they laugh at the joke with ease,
in this way, laugh at all their follies,
all the things they can't explain.
It's getting dark, and in the fading light,
they toast their health.  I raise my glass to them.

Susan Rothbard



Were we once golden as these boys
who sweat through games they cannot win?
Even the home turf seems allied against them,
orange and brown as their own dim jerseys,
hard as immutable, well-schooled foes.
They bleed.  They curse.  They weep
the tears of the never undefeated.
Some gangly as goal posts,
others spill fountains of flesh
over waistbands that show them no mercy.
None of them Adonis,
these boys who'll soon be men--
yet who is as beautiful as they
standing in a line they know will crumble,
and yet standing and standing again?
Were we as golden as these boys who stand to fall
ever and ever again under the weight of helmets and pads
and the jealous love of men too lost
to even touch the ground?

R.G. Evans


Why can't I let go of it,
that failure that made me a fan?
That long lost summer
when everything seemed fresh
and possible, a new Boston,
and me new to it,

when the streets emptied
and in every bay window
the blue light, the blare,
the roar rising up, each catch
and pitch a leap of all
our faiths, explosive nights and

the morning conversations
on the Green Line, the excited
d'ja see? can'ya believe?
the whole of New England
out on the tree lined streets,
rubbing their eyes in hope

the radios on the beach towels,
the girls riding up Prudential Tower
knowing the stats, the scores,
the last few days when no one
spoke of anything else,

and then that final electrifying,
intense, cruel moment
when it was still ours to lose

so many thousand eyes
following the rolling ball
unbelieving, the despair
escaping all our throats.

So many years later.
Still I cannot let go.

Michelle Cameron


I watch the players I'm preparing to sketch.
How can I capture the clash and the might
with a gesture-drawing and a flash of insight
of figures caught as they reach and stretch
beyond their strength toward elusive goals?
Are they ever told to search their souls ?

(Are WE ever told to search OUR souls
As we grin and scream and yell, "I betcha
our guys will murder yours in this fight?")

Design of the huddle, science of the game
are just excuses behind which to hide
our deeply implanted thirsting for blood
be it on altars or in war's deadly flame.

"Not seeing glory, behind what can we hide?
The TV commercials? For us, it's this BUD?"

Catherine M. LeGault



Why do I like to watch?
Mostly it's the way he breaks away
from them and runs to the field's edge.
Not like a deer pursued-
more wild mustang, or alpha wolf
in a game, violent and playful.
Teaching and learning effortlessly joined.

I like the optimism of the position - Forward.
Where defense is only a fleeting condition,
gathering to turn and move forward again
towards a well-defined goal that, though fixed
in time and space, can never be quite the same.

A stream of moments rushing past me,
clouded only to me
because of my distance in space,
which I can cross,
and time,
which I cannot.

Ken Ronkowitz


the chariots sit in neat rows
upon paved stone.
interstate traffic, with single
didn't all roads lead to rome?.
the fatted calf turns unwillingly
over open flame,
bellies bloated with malted brew,
for these patrons of the game.
the coliseum stands ready
in a manner quite surreal,
below the cheering crowd
the mighty titans take the field.
gods each, in their own right
with  single thought in mind.
as mere mortals we can only  shout
send in the lions.
above the blood and anger
is hope that sanity will reign
that what we've come to worship
is just a football game

ray cutshaw


There's always a ball
and somewhere to put it:
an alley, a glove, a goal.
Defeat prowling like a
mongrel dog

unready for love.
When I was 20
I made a plan.
I wanted everything,
of course,

but mostly this: a man
who wouldn't need
the weekend fix
of sport.
The paranoid fantasy

of this:
2 Yankee pillows
on the couch,
the baseball hat

Or stadium dates.
The stink of beer
and brine, the organ
punctuating every glad
occasion for the fans.

I wanted love to be
the sport, or something
like it,
something won,
at least.

Mary DeBow


So I was flipping channels the other day
and there was this tennis player making
an incredible save and he had that scruffy
little goatee I really like on a guy and I
hesitated for a second and I remembered:

I used to watch tennis with my dad, who was
a tennis coach and a track coach when I was
in  high school so I never played tennis or
ran track, and I know he loved me but he
never really said it very much except maybe

when I was really little so I don't remember
and he has never said anything at all about my
poetry, but I know he reads it because I ask
my mom, I say, "did he even read them?" and
she says yes, and that's all there is to that.

But then last year Dad sent me a check with an
order form in it to buy him a copy of the Paterson
Literary Review which had one of my poems--
at least I assume he wanted me to buy him one,
because there was just the order form, and no note.

Anyway we'd watch tennis sometimes back then,
Dad and I, and he was looking for tips for his
coaching, I'm sure, though he never said, we
didn't talk, we just watched, and I wonder if he
had any idea why I was really watching.

Bjorn Borg.  The cool, clear beauty of his
blonde hair and beard, the graceful way he fell for
the ball but never even landed hard.  The sheer face
of glacial Swedish muscle I knew I'd never have
the slightest chance to scale.

And I wondered what was under that ice.
And I wanted whatever it was.  And I hoped
that my father had no idea how I sat in our
cold living room and  burned, I was sure,
hot enough to melt right through the screen.

Svea Barrett-Tarleton



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