Enrich your summer reading with the following selection of poems about sports.

Sports Poems for Teachers
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Kamilah Aisha Moon

North Charleston, South Carolina, April 4, 2015

Walter Scott must have been a track athlete
before serving his country, having children:

his knees were high, elbows bent
at 90 degrees as his arms pumped
close to his sides, back straight and head up
as each foot landed in front of the other.
Too much majesty in his last strides.

So much depends on instinct, ingrained
legacies and American pastimes.
Relays where everyone on the team wins
remain a dream. Olympic arrogance,
black men chased for sport—
heat after heat
of longstanding, savage races
that always finish the same way.

My guess is Walter Scott ran distances
and sprinted, whatever his life events
required. Years of training and technique
are not forgotten, even at 50. Even after being
tased out of his right mind. Even in peril
the body remembers what it has been
taught, keeping perfect form
during his final dash.


Copyright © 2015 Kamilah Aisha Moon. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner

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Afaa Michael Weaver, 1951

If he hits the curve before you do, all is lost
is all I remember when the coach yelled out
to start, to kick it down the short straightaway

into the curve, the curve a devil’s handiwork,
with Worsenski ahead of me, two hundred sixty
pounds, one hundred pounds more than me,

and all I could see were the Converse soles
of a boy I dusted in my dreams on the bus
out here to make the track team, letters

for my sweater, girls going goo-goo over me,
coaches from big-league schools with papers
to say I was headed for glory, my unkempt

disappointment in me now sealed by winged
feet beating me in the curve, Worsenski as big
as the USS Enterprise sliding through Pacific

waters, parting the air in front of him that
sucked back behind just to hold me in my grip
of deep shame until I wished I were not there.

I wanted more than being human, a warrior
of field and track would be bursting out now
ripping open my chest with masculinity

to make Jesse Owens proud or jealous,
or inspired or something other than me
the pulling-up caboose slower than mud

running like an old man really walking,
all the most valuable parts of me inside
my brain in wishes, in dreams, in things

not yet born into the world, in calculations
of beauty, in yearning for love, for the word
of love, for some adoration from Wanda,

the most beautiful girl in the whole block,
black like me and wondering just what
life had to give those of us who can fly.

Copyright © 2015 Afaa Michael Weaver. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner

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Brett Fletcher Lauer

I understand what
a jump shot is,
certain mechanics

of the body, hand
positions, elbow
alignment, follow

through. Enough
player names to
mention around

the imaginary water-
cooler if I found
myself there. A body

at rest still needs
to hydrate. I cried
watching Bird

and Magic in that
documentary and
own a small collection

of expensive high-top
sneakers in various
colorways—used

exclusively to walk
my pets or to the
coffee shop for

an almond croissant.
Fresh to death. On
my mantle, four second

place trophies from
intramural wrestling
all before fifth grade.

Pitter patter sprawl.
I can’t remember
swimming. I mean,

I can’t swim. I can’t
drive. Sometimes
I miss a high five,

the pat on the ass.
I swung and missed
at tee-ball, golf. Traded

cards for the love
of the potential investment.
George Brett, I’ll always

love your name.
I appreciate highlights,
trick plays as much as

the next: The Statue
of Liberty, Flea Flickers,
The Changing Light

at Sandover. I was
born in the suburbs
of the city of brotherly

bullies, poor sports,
famous boo-ers and
stadium court houses.

I was the only boy
cut from my seventh
grade soccer team.

It’s in my blood to lose
at all games, even Uno,
especially Monopoly,

and when I do, I spit
into my palm or refuse
to shake hands.

Copyright © 2015 Brett Fletcher Lauer. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner

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Lisa Olstein

as you round the bend
keep the steel and mouse-skinned
rabbit front left center
and the track and the crowd
and its cries are a blurred ovation
as you stumble and recover
and then fully fall even if
only onto the rough gravel
of your inside mind or outside
in what is called the real world
as how many drunken grandfathers
holding little girls’ hands
and broken peanut shells go
swirling by why are you racing
what are you racing from
from what fixed arm does this
moth-eaten rabbit run
captive is different than stupid
near dead is different than dead
they call it a decoy but we know
a mirror when we see ourselves
lurch and dive for one

Copyright © 2015 Lisa Olstein. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner

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Jeffrey McDaniel

The hoop is not metal, but a pair of outstretched arms,
God’s arms, joined at the fingers. And God is saying

throw it to me. It’s not a ball anymore. It’s an orange prayer
I’m offering with all four chambers. And the other players—

the Pollack of limbs, flashing hands and teeth—
are just temptations, obstacles between me and the Lord’s light.

Once during an interview I slipped, I didn’t pray well tonight,
and the reporter looked at me, the same one who’d called me

a baller of destiny, and said you mean play, right? Of course,
I nodded. Don’t misunderstand—I’m no reverend

of the flesh. Priests embarrass me. A real priest
wouldn’t put on that robe, wouldn’t need the public

affirmation. A real priest works in disguise, leads
by example, preaches with his feet. Yes, Jesus walked on water,

but how about a staircase of air? And when the clock
is down to its final ticks, I rise up and over the palms

of a nonbeliever—the whole world watching, thinking
it can’t be done—I let the faith roll off my fingertips, the ball

drunk with backspin, a whole stadium of people holding
the same breath simultaneously, the net flying up like a curtain,

the lord’s truth visible for an instant, converting nonbelievers
by the bushel, who will swear for years they’ve witnessed a miracle.

Copyright © 2015 Jeffrey McDaniel. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner

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Ada Limón, 1976

Despite the morning’s gray static of rain,
we drive to Churchill Downs at 6 a.m.,
eyes still swollen shut with sleep. I say,
Remember when I used to think everything
was getting better and better? Now, I think
it’s just getting worse and worse. I know it’s not
what I’m supposed to say as we machine our
way through the silent seventy minutes on 64
over pavement still fractured from the winter’s
wreckage. I’m tired. I’ve had vertigo for five
months and on my first day home, he’s shaken
me awake to see this horse, not even race, but
work. He gives me his jacket as we face
the deluge from car to the twin spire turnstiles,
and once deep in the fern-green grandstands, I see
the crowd. A few hundred maybe, black umbrellas,
cameras, and notepads, wet-winged eager early birds
come to see this Kentucky-bred bay colt with his
chewed-off tail train to end the almost 40-year
American Triple Crown drought. A man next to us,
some horseracing heavy, ticks off a list of reasons
why this horse—his speed-laden pedigree, muscle
and bone recovery, et cetera, et cetera—could never
win the grueling mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes.
Then, the horse with his misspelled name comes out,
first just casually cantering with his lead horse,
and next, a brief break in the storm, and he’s racing
against no one but himself and the official clocker,
monstrously fast and head down so we can see
that faded star flash on his forehead like this
is real gladness. As the horse eases up and we
close our mouths to swallow, the heavy next to us
folds his arms, says what I want to say too: I take it all back.

Copyright © 2015 Ada Limón. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner

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Yesenia Montilla

To this day I still remember sitting
on my abuelo’s lap watching                 the Yankees hit,
                 then run, a soft wind rounding the bases
every foot tap to the white pad gentle as a       kiss.

How I loved those afternoons languidly
                 eating jamón sandwiches & drinking root beer.

Later, when I knew something about                 the blue collar
man—my father who worked with his hands & tumbled
                 into the house exhausted like heat in a rainstorm—
                                    I became a Mets fan.

Something about                 their unclean                 faces
                                       their mustaches               seemed rough
to the touch. They had names like       Wally & Dyskstra.
I was certain I would                 marry a man just like them

                 that is until                      Sammy Sosa came along

with his smile a reptile that only knew about lying in the sun.
His arms were cannons and his skin burnt cinnamon
                 that glistened in my dreams.

Everyone said he was not       beautiful.

Out on the streets where the men set up shop playing dominoes
I’d hear them say between the yelling of       capicu
                                   “como juega, pero feo como el diablo.”

I knew nothing of my history
                 of the infighting on an island on which one side swore
it was only one thing: pallid, pristine.                        & I didn’t know
                 that Sammy carried this history like a                    tattoo.

That he wished everyday to be                 white.

It is a perfect game this race war, it is everywhere,       living
                                  in the American bayou as much as
                 the Dominican dirt roads.
It makes a man do something to his skin that seems unholy.
It makes that same man change               eye color like a soft
                 summer dress slipped on slowly.
It makes a grandmother ask her granddaughter

                                  if she’s suffering
                 from something feverish
because that could be the only excuse why
                                  her hair has not been straightened
like a ballerina’s back                 dyed the color of wild
                 daffodils growing in an outfield.

Sammy hit 66 home runs one year
                                  & that was still            not                  enough
                 to make him feel handsome

or worthy of that blackness that I believe a gift
even today while black churches burn & black bodies
disappear from one day to the next the same as old
pennies.

I think of him often       barely remember what he looked like

                 but I can recall his       hunched shoulders in the
dugout                 his perfect swing
                 & how maybe he spit out       something black
from his mouth                 after
every                 single                                  strike—

Copyright © 2015 Yesenia Montilla. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner

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Stacey Lynn Brown

Knock-kneed, bucktoothed,
I stand with a small golf bag slung

over my shoulder, my 96
ROCK hat pulled low, shielding

the bright Florida sun.
I am seven, out with my dad

chasing this small white
ball up and down the fairway

while he hits mulligans, calibrates
his swing. He wants me to be

the next Nancy Lopez. I just want
to spend time with him, would never

actually say I don’t like playing,
watching, talking about it

for hours on end. All too soon,
his handicap won’t refer

to his game but to the night
my mother found him on the floor,

the aftermath, the constant
tallying of the effort it takes

to get from one hazard to
the next. My father is away,

furthest from the hole, choosing
between iron and wood.

Copyright © 2015 Stacey Lynn Brown. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner

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January Gill O'Neil

America under the lights
at Harry Ball Field. A fog rolls in
as the flag crinkles and drapes

around a metal pole.
My son reaches into the sky
to pull down a game-ender,

a bomb caught in his leather mitt.
He gives the ball a flat squeeze
then tosses it in from the outfield,

tugs his cap over a tussle of hair
before joining the team—
all high-fives and handshakes

as the Major boys line up
at home plate. They are learning
how to be good sports,

their dugout cheers interrupted only
by sunflower seed shells spat
along the first base line.

The coach prattles on
about the importance of stealing
bases and productive outs

while a teammate cracks a joke
about my son’s ‘fro, then says,
But you’re not really black…

to which there’s laughter,
to which he smiles but says nothing,
which says something about

what goes unsaid, what starts
with a harmless joke, routine
as a can of corn.

But this is little league.
This is where he learns
how to field a position,

how to play a bloop in the gap—
that impossible space where
he’ll always play defense.

Copyright © 2015 January Gill O'Neil. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner

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Sherman Alexie, 1966

When I was twelve, I shoplifted a pair
Of basketball shoes. We could not afford
Them otherwise. But when I tied them on,
I found that I couldn’t hit a shot.

When the ball clanked off the rim, I felt
Only guilt, guilt, guilt. O, immoral shoes!
O, kicks made of paranoia and rue!
Distraught but unwilling to get caught

Or confess, I threw those cursed Nikes
Into the river and hoped that was good
Enough for God. I played that season
In supermarket tennis shoes that felt

The same as playing in bare feet.
O, torn skin! O, bloody heels and toes!
O, twisted ankles! O, blisters the size
Of dimes and quarters! Finally, after

I couldn’t take the pain anymore, I told
My father what I had done. He wasn’t angry.
He wept out of shame. Then he cradled
And rocked me and called me his Little

Basketball Jesus. He told me that every cry
Of pain was part of the hoops sonata.
Then he laughed and bandaged my wounds—
My Indian Boy Poverty Basketball Stigmata.

Copyright © 2015 Sherman Alexie. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner