"Memorial Hoops" by Reginald Dwayne Betts

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December 29, 2021 

Memorial Hoops

Reginald Dwayne Betts

The day broke a record for cold, for us wanting
To be anywhere but outside, & it was late
May, the weekend we called Memorial. My mother
Is a veteran, but that is a story for another time,
& we were driving into the mother of rivers state,
My youngest son, named after two men, one who
Turned a trumpet into a prayer, the other who
Before a piano became whatever those who know say
God sounds like, me, & friends, who like me, imagined
Watching their sons trade baskets with strangers
Was some kind of holy. Around us was more granite
Than Black folks & I carried Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man
In my knapsack, hesitant to return to all the astonishing
Ways we make each other suffer &, still, somehow,
Survive, & astonished most by how we remember. I’ve
Forgotten my fair share of things that matter. But
Who am I kidding? The weekend was about
Basketball. We’d driven three hours to this colder
Weather. My youngest boy hoped he’d heat up once
A ball touched his hands. Did I say we named the child
After the idiosyncrasies of Jazz, all because as children
I don’t think my wife & I knew enough ambition
To save us from what we’d encounter. These were the days

When he and the nine he suited up with desired
Little more than to hear the rasp of a ball against whatever
Passed for wood in a gym with a hoop. There is something
To be said about how basketball makes men of boys and boys
Of men. The ref who chattered with us parents wondered
Why a cousin the age of the ballers ate chips for breakfast.
The other team had a player who made me think, though
She be but little she is fierce, as she, the only girl on
The court slipped a jewel into that hovering crown
We cheered, even those of us whose boys sought to dribble
& jump shot their way to the glory of a win. & when Miles
Came down as if he knew what would happen. I didn’t hold
My breath. A crossover, the ball then swung around his back,
The kid before him lost on some raft in a wild river. Maybe
He knew the ball would fall true because he turned around
To watch us as much as to get back on defense. We laughed
& laughed & watched as kids barely large enough to launch
all of that need at a target did so, again & again.

Copyright © 2021 by Reginald Dwayne Betts. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 29, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

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“Sometimes being a father means looking for all the meaning in the simple things that your children do. This poem is about basketball as the location where myths get made. And it’s about how a moment my child might forget, is likely to forget, can mean so much to all of us watching it as it happens.”
Reginald Dwayne Betts

Reginald Dwayne Betts is the author of Felon
(W. W. Norton, 2019), winner of a 2020 NAACP Image Award and an American Book Award. The recipient of fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Ruth Lily Endowment, he is currently a PhD candidate in law at Yale University.

Felon
(W. W. Norton, 2019)


“Basketball feat. Galileo & EPMD” by Adrian Matejka
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Thanks to Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press, 2019), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Read a Q&A about Kaminsky’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year
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