The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl on Sunday. I was so happy for my city, having never won the Lombardi trophy before, and I was happy for the players, and Coach Carroll, and the families of the players and the 12th Man fans. It was exciting and a wonderful example of tenacity, focus and spirit. It was great fun. I now have a crush on about five of the players, and a little crush on Pete Carroll, too. I feel a little high schoolish, actually. I’ve probably watched fewer Super Bowls than the average person, and it’s not because I don’t like sports or am not a “sports person.” In fact, for most of my youth, I spent most of my time at sporting events, perhaps even as much time as I spent studying or in the classroom. I was a cheerleader in high school, so indeed I was jumping up and down, leading pep rallies, doing back-handsprings on basketball courts and football field sidelines. I can still (almost) do the splits and I’m going to try out a herkie as soon as I get home today. Maybe in the backyard. We’ll see.
As a former teacher and poet, I have an idea of the kind of money spent on big sports programs. It’s a lot. And the kind of money made on big sports programs. It’s even more. I know what is spent on arts and poetry and music. I know what a visiting poet might receive for an appearance or talk, and what a visiting major sport athlete might receive. It’s not the same. Even if you’re Maya Angelou, I’m betting it’s not the same. And there have been times in the past when this disparity has made me angry, disappointed, and even disdainful of all of the millions of dollars not spent on art. Not spent on the soul-full, spirit-inspiring work of the heart, since it seems we have trouble quantifying it, or marketing it, or making it sexy, hero-centered or worthy of product endorsements. (I’m wondering now, to what sort of cereal or auto Billy Collins might lend his face? Or Bruce Weigl? Or a new favorite of mine, Victoria Redel?) But, I’m softening now, or growing older and wiser? I guess, after it’s all said, I want football and opera. I want the Winter Olympics and poetry. I want Mozart and skateboarding.
Years ago, my stepson Joe was a skateboarder. He was angry a lot, and in trouble. He didn’t like school, and his parents were “lame” and he just wanted to skate. Skate, skate, skate. With his zipped up hoodie sweatshirt, and his pants barely hanging on his hips, he and his friends surreptitiously tried to find smooth cement and metal rails and not get caught by the police. He didn’t want to go to English class, or math class, or join the soccer team at school. He didn’t want to clean his room, or flush the toilet, or help with the dishes. He just wanted to skate. One day, he invited me to watch a skateboarding video with him. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do less than this, but wanted so badly to have some kind of connection with him, some kind of thing for us to talk about. For twenty-minutes or so, I watched free style skater Rodney Mullen pop ollies, kick flips, and 360 flips. He spun around and around, slid gracefully, balanced expertly. It was beautiful, and exciting and completely unbelievable that someone could do that dance with a skateboard! This guy was completely and utterly an artist—he was creating from his experience, his talent and his environment. And, in so doing, he was inspiring others to create, too.
I admit, I’d love to fill the 67,000 seats in CenturyLink field with screaming poetry fans. I wonder what the 12th Man of Poetry might look like?? And yet. And yet, perhaps poetry calls us to have a more quiet, more intimate connection with the poet and the others around us? Maybe 600 a thousand times or more is perfectly okay with poetry. Or 6 people in your living room, really listening, really connecting to the heart art of poetry. Or 6 people in your living room, wearing their team’s jersey colors, jumping up at an interception or a really good play. Maybe, in the end, it’s really about connecting with others to celebrate our humaneness, our creativity, our longing to link our lives with others, to learn, to celebrate, to grow. So, I’m reinvigorating my love of sports, (especially sports underdogs) and I’m gonna get a whole lot bolder about inviting my football friends into my love of poetry, too.
Song for a Skater at Fourteen
for Joseph Albright
You don’t think I can imagine
what this feels like. I can’t imagine wind
tearing your eyes, the sustained moment
of a trick. Now it’s ollie, nollie, grinding,
waxing, sliding, defying the gravity
of this time in your life. I can’t imagine
subtle balance up on your toes,
roll back on your heels, the grip tape’s
sandpaper grab on your shoe bottoms,
the metallic slide on a handrail, the up-and-over
the ramp. This is freedom, you think,
nothing can stop me now.
Not bloody bails on the sidewalk,
not cops cruising the parking lots,
not teachers or principals
or parents, who know nothing
about being fourteen and free.
Even though I don’t understand,
you ask me to watch the skate video
anyway, and there he is: Barishnikov
at Venice Beach. He drags the toe
of the board along asphalt; he executes
the grand jete’ over the staircase; he twirls and swirls
around and around, front trucks like satin slippers.
His angular arms curve in first position. He dances.
I get it. I’m listening, but you can’t imagine,
and I don’t know how to tell you
there will be more dancing, this flight
of your definite body. There will be more.