Vol. 1, No. 1: The First Pitch photo

Vol. 1, No. 1: The First Pitch

a collection of poetry, fiction, and cnf from our inaugural rag-tag grand slam of underdogs, arrogant S.O.Bs, shredders and rodeo clowns—with guest appearances by the guy who bowled a perfect game on 9/11, anne carson, race horses, window textiles, the pennsylvania turnpike and others

edited by matt mitchell and alexis briscuso

Fore! photo

image: Aaron Burch

Reggie Miller, Lord of Lords by Jace Einfeldt

The second time I found Jesus my whole world had shrunk to the size of a porta potty—and I’m not talking about the shitty kind, the ones on the side of the road—I’m talking about the kind you find at the Boston Marathon, the kind that has several toilet holes lining the walls with washing stations nearby, and no, there wasn’t anyone else in there with me; I was alone, thank God, because if anyone had seen me in that state, wearing the Ben Wallace jersey Sarah got me for Christmas long ago when Wallace was still on the Wizards, back when Sarah could still bear to look at me, and a pair of tear away pants, sweating my balls off even though the sun was down and the wind had picked up blowing the late-winter chill off the mountain while I raked rows of abrasions down my arms and cultivated seeds of future pain all over my body, if anyone would’ve found me like that, I would’ve jumped in one of the holes and hoped to God Above I’d sink below the surface and return to the shit from whence my sorry life sprang—but part of me was so goddamned alone that I almost wished there was someone else there to fill the void, but there wasn’t a soul for miles because I’d already sold the last ounce of mine for a balloon of smack that shot me straight to the Pearly Gates; I’d gotten so close I could smell the manna, milk, honey, and even the salty scent of the left over loaves and fishes; I could taste the sweet salvation of God’s love on my tongue and it sent an army of goosebumps riding down my back on angels’ wings, but Old Saint Peter blocked me like Dikembe Mutombo and told me “Not in my house” before thrusting my sorry ass back to earth, and I watched as dope fiends and admitted addicts ascended on cherubic chariots, and even though that rejection was hard, I didn’t let that get my spirits down because I knew God could find it in His heart to love a sinner like me if I just said I was sorry, like cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die-level sorry, sorry for the time I used Sarah’s pearl earrings as collateral for a couple courtside Pistons tickets, or the time I missed the birth of my only son and woke up zonked in a Corolla down a backcountry road with Petey Grimes in the passenger seat, yet I knew that God could forgive me because He’d done it before, and He could do it again because He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and He’s not the kind of person to switch jerseys out of nowhere because when God’s on your team, He always comes in clutch—God is like the Reggie Miller of the pantheon of Divine Omnipotent Beings—and as I sat in that porta potty, shaking like it was 2OT with all Hell combined against me, like Lucifer himself was posting me up getting ready to obliterate me with an unrighteous hook shot with all his unholy legions weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth, I genuflected to my Creator and waited for a seraphim to drop a live coal in my mouth, to touch my lips and purge me of all iniquity, but before I supplicated to the Most High God, I cleared my throat and spat on the ground, and a moonbeam caught the spittle just right and I saw my God reflected in the phlegm—and before you call me crazy, if you can find Him in a bag of potato chips or in the curling clouds just before a summer storm, you can find Him anywhere—so, I shot my half-court buzzer beater and said, Dear God Above, I know I don’t deserve Your love, but oh please wilt Thou show mercy on my sorry ass and release me from the bonds of Beelzebub, and if You do, I promise to be a better husband, father, mortal, etc., and before I could utter the Amen, the door to my portable world, soaked in shit and piss, swung open to bright beams of heavenly rays illuminating every corner of that plastic hall, exposing every secret hiding place, and the voice of God boomed through the entrance declaring: “Come out with your hands up,” and I surrendered myself to my God, my Creator, the Alpha and Omega, the Author and Finisher of My Faith, and I raised my hands above my head where He could see them, and, with eyes downcast against the glare of His glory, I waited as the seconds dripped like cold sweat down the face of Dali clock and said “Here I am; send me.”

New Era by Gene Morgan

I felt much better after I tossed my hat into the kitchen bin. For extra clarity, I gathered all of the championship gear in a box, sealed the box shut, and buried the box under our ginkgo tree. I used the “bad” shovel with a broken handle. A vintage jersey with my last name, which I share with a famous player, also went into the box. It’s my favorite version of the team’s jersey and a gift from my brother. I wonder how long it will last.

Driving Later photo

image: David Howell

Chris Paul Calls Jake from State Farm but He Doesn’t Answer by Leigh Chadwick

Chris Paul thinks it’s lonely being Chris Paul. Sometimes Chris Paul gets so lonely he dresses up as Cliff Paul and goes to Whole Foods to see if anyone will recognize him, but no one ever does. Chris Paul doesn’t understand why no one answers their phone when he calls anymore. Not Melo. Not Melo’s hoodie. Not even Jake from State Farm. When he tries calling LeBron, it doesn’t even ring. It just goes straight to voicemail. Occasionally, Dwyane Wade picks up, but he’s always too busy filming that gameshow with the cube that talks, or he’s too busy spending time with his wife. Chris Paul can’t remember Dwyane Wade’s wife’s name, though he knows she’s a famous actress, and that he used to have a thing for her when he saw her in Bring It On. Or maybe it was Bad Boys II. Or maybe it was both. Whenever Chris Paul sees her, he’s always surprised how she looks the same, like the last twenty years never happened, which makes Chris Paul thinks about the harshness of decades and if only his body worked the same as hers. The gravity of age can be a mean motherfucker is something he would tell someone if they picked up their phone. Chris Paul walks into his study and stands in front of his trophy case. He doesn’t understand why he bought a trophy case. Its emptiness deflates him. He wishes he was back at Wake Forest. He wishes he could do it all over again. He wishes he could grow five inches. Chris Paul hums Skee-Lo, but he won’t rap the words. He goes into the bathroom and looks at himself in the mirror. The gravity of age can be a mean motherfucker. He whispers the words to himself. Every year it’s another piece of him that threatens to let go—another injury, another promise of what’s still yet to come. This year it’s the soreness in his right arm. Before his right arm it was the sore left knee and the sore left foot and the sore left groin and the sore left knee again. Before the injury to his right arm, Chris Paul thought the left side of him was haunted. Now, he thinks it’s all of him that’s haunted.

Battling the Darkness by Andrew McSorley

The first fight feels like wind in your face, nothing more, until he rips your helmet off and lands a left jab above your right eyebrow. As soon as you feel the blood trickle into your eye you pretend to slip, fall quickly and lay still on the ice, elbows covering your ears, the sound of horns blowing through the PA system at the Brandt Centre, their trademark victory cry. The trainer stitches you up between periods and you feel so much older than everyone around you. You decide to keep fighting because there’s no other way, nothing else to be done.

 

You can’t remember winning a fight until your second year in the juniors. You jersey punched the prick right in his mustache until he started to turtle and you landed a lucky right uppercut across the left side of his face. They had to reconstruct his jaw and cheek with metal plates and screws. After that, you started to get calls from scouts, and coach moved you up to the third line.

 

Three years after you’ve been drafted you wake up one day to find that you really don’t have knuckles on your right hand anymore. It’s all flat, no more ridges like on your left hand. It reminds you of Saskatoon, and the way you realized one day that everything you remembered as a child was wrong. All the mountains of your memory broke into hills, wore down into valleys, shrunk into river beds where you skated on a flat horizon, everything repeating: the skyline, the motion of your legs and hands. You wonder how long someone like you lasts. As long as a place like Saskatoon, as long as anyone is willing to put up with the same thing every day, until they don’t even recognize pieces of themselves anymore.

 

They put you on a plane and fly you to Philly. You fight an old-timer in the second period, your first left-hander. It’s the only NHL ice-time you get all year. When the refs break the two of you apart the old man shouts over an outstretched arm, “Where the hell did you come from?” You want to tell him you rose from something inconsequential, silt and mud from a melted glacier, or frost in the cracks of a tree branch. Instead you say, “From your mother’s ass,” as you turn to face the Philadelphia crowd, filled with the kind of pain that gives life to something else. You feel the rope of darkness for what’s left of yourself, but everything you took for granted is gone, so you blow ironic kisses to the crowd and pace the empty locker room like something in a cage, like snow blown by thoughtless wind.

Net photo

image: Daniel Romo

Sneeze King by Joe Aguilar

I was at the library pretending to read a book by Ambrose Bierce when I sneezed a sneeze that threw my head back. I felt a warm hand on my shoulder. A man with sunglasses and a stylish haircut smirked at me. “I think you have what it takes to beat Jerry,” the man said. “You do?” I said. Jerry was the Sneeze King. I doubted the stylish man, but his flattery was nice, and I hadn’t been touched in years. So the stylish man trained me. I learned how to inhale through the corners of my eyes to build my capacity for air. I forced myself to lose my taste for cheese. I mastered transcendental meditation. And when I went to Meigs County, Ohio, for the sneezing world championship, I took home the gold handkerchief. I was the Sneeze King. But three months later, Jerry jumped in front of a subway train. His children blamed me. I couldn’t sleep. “I can’t do it anymore,” I told the stylish man over the phone. “Can’t or won’t?” he said but I’d already hung up. Now I ignore the itch in my nose at the library. It is my disgrace, and my crown.

A Beer with Ken Griffey Jr. by Joe Aguilar

I’m having a beer with Ken Griffey Jr. I can’t believe it. He’s my childhood idol. We’re on stools at the bar but for some reason Ken Griffey Jr. is in full uniform and holding a bat on his shoulder while smiling, like on his Upper Deck rookie card. It starts to get a little awkward. He keeps smiling. He sort of parts his teeth to drink from his beer. He watches me nervously. He bumps a waiter with the bat. At last, I say he can relax, we’re only friends having a beer. He looks relieved. “I didn’t want to disappoint you,” he says. “That’s all right,” I tell him. “Sometimes it’s okay to put the bat down.”

I’ve Always Wanted To Learn To Skateboard by Timmy Sutton

I’m pretty sure I'm too old now

If I break an arm
Now, at this point,

I'm probably gonna have a storm sensing elbow
Until I'm the ash I've always asked to be

Maybe that's just how miracles work
Snapped tendon transmuted to
Front-porch, monsoon magic

I'll kickflip my way into wizardom
Skin my knees into sorcery
Fuck up my back forever

And then sit in a rocking chair
My body in conversation with clouds

Until the rain arrives

Babe Magnet photo

image: Sal Caradonna

Class Clown photo

image: Duane Abel

Triple Play photo

image: Norman Jung

Steph Curry throws his mouth guard into the stands and a new universe was born by Brandon Noel

It wasn’t just because it happened in Cleveland
because I was watching from 70 miles away
and felt it happen too—maybe across the whole state
a moment of collective joy and elation coupled
with a single, supremely talented person’s complete frustration
collapsed, a singularity of negating forces, the rise
of one body and the decline of another. They met
upon this axis, the tangent curve undulating.
He was always chewing on the damn thing,
usually with a fucking infuriating grin, a puckered cheek, having
just drained a thirty-footer. But this was 2016.
Lebron was alive, only freezing his body after games,
DELLY was pounding coffees on the bench
and pestering the shit out of the Splash-brothers,
but here in game 6 it all came to a head. Ohio
could not be denied it’s rebirth. He hears the whistle
and doesn’t like the call, grabs the custom plastic
mold from between his teeth—whips it wild—
bouncing off the RTA line, towards the outer belt,
wine and gold stars bursting on the edge,
generational losers, on the news they said,
Well this has always been a football town.

Shirts Versus Skins by Russell Nichols

The game started like every other: we each picked a number, one to six, Isaac rolled his die, shirts even, skins odd. That’s how it went down every day at Pickett Park that summer, every day except the one day I showed up late.

“Took you long enough, yo,” Cole said when I stepped on the court, still shaking.

It wasn’t my fault. Uncle Joe was supposed to drop me off at three, but a cop with nothing better to do was tailgating us for twenty minutes. My uncle kept cool, hands at ten and two, staying under the 30 mph speed limit. Neither of us said a thing and unspoken words converted into sweat globs. When the squad car turned away we blew out so much air, my uncle’s Acura Legend could’ve floated. You alright? Uncle Joe asked. I peeled off my soggy shirt and nodded. I didn’t want to talk, not then, not at the park, either. I just wanted to play.

“You skins, man,” Isaac said.

I nodded and reached over my head to pull my shirt off. It was stubborn or I was too distracted. Either way I yanked harder and harder till it gave and I tossed it on the metal bleacher.

Jet was the first to notice. “What’s up with your boy?” he said, pointing and laughing at me and the rest of them did too. The joke was lost on me till I looked down and saw my whole upper body exposed and red—a textbook figure of blood vessels, connective tissue, glands and nerves.

What the hell? I went to get my skin, which was balled up, but Jet beat me to it.

Give it here, I told him. That’s mine.

“Keep away!” he said and lobbed it to Isaac, who threw it to Cole, who tossed it to Lighty.

Flailing around only made my look stupid, so I stopped. Folded my arms across my bare bare chest like I could cover up shame.

“What’s the matter, yo?” Cole cackled. “Cat got your skin?”

They didn’t want to play? Fine. I’d play by myself. I dribbled the ball to the free throw line. I shot. I missed. They laughed even harder. The rebound came back to me. I had to redeem myself, so I stepped back and back and back. I ran and jumped. And I flew, the summer air tickling sinews, and slammed the ball through the chain net. I had never dunked before. Was it adrenaline? Aerodynamics? Weight loss? I had no idea, but swear to God it happened. I had witnesses. Up there, hanging on the rim I could breathe clearly. And when I came back to Earth, they handed me my fistful of flesh.

“You alright?” Isaac asked.

“I’m good,” I said, raising my hands to slide my skin over my head.

Diary of a Golf Ball by Jerome W. McFadden

April 28. 

I am a golf ball. At my core I am a solid synthetic rubber sphere. My makers surround ed that with a tough thermoplastic cover. Finally they give me all these cute little dim ples and then sprayed me with two (count that again - two!) coats of brilliant white paint and then splashed the family logo across my face. telling the world where I came from. A high sheen and some scuff resistance and here I am, ready to take on the game. 

April 29.

Not so cool. They dumped me into a huge box with a lot of other newbies. It’s dark and crowded in here and we’re shoved around a lot. Never did get the chance to read the family name. 

April 30.

Better. They packed me to a tight little box. Only six of us in here. Kinda homey. Caught the family name. I read it on the others as they nestled us in here. Callaway. Must be  Irish. Nice to know. 

May 1.

I’m in love. She has cute dimples (very much like mine), a great complexion, and her family name curved across her face. Only problem, she could be my first cousin, or something more scary. They just scooped all of us out of that big old box and slid the six of us into this small one. But… maybe she was put together on a different production run. That would be copacetic, wouldn’t it? Life is complicated and I’m just beginning! But I shouldn’t complain: It’s cozy in here, warm, and shoulder to shoulder, in the darkness. 

May 2.

On the road. Off to our future, I guess. 

May 3.

We’re in a sports store. I am perched next to the opening of our small box so I can peek out. Crazy shirts hanging on the wall. Soft material, collars and short sleeves, but weird colors. Pastels, aquamarine blue, deep green, bright pink, rusty red. Who wears shirts like that? 

May 5.

Hooray, Hooray, our little box has been bought! Guy opened the carton, took me in his  hand, rolled me between his fingers and said, “I’ll taken ‘em.” Fat guy. Wearing a shirt like those on the wall. I don’t know how he sees his toes. Or how he can get his hand around down there to pee. I thought golf was a sport? But not my problem. He stuffed me back into the box and paid for us. The rest of the folks in this box should be damn glad I was in here to make such a good impression. I gotta tell you, though, it was great to be out of that box for a little while. 

May 6.

Life is getting rougher. Got dropped out of our box into a large cloth bag that has a forest of iron clubs protruding out of the top. A wide mix of older balls already in here.  Some of these dudes are really old, covered with nicks and grass stains and crusted dirt. No wonder he bought a fresh crew. Spotted a cute chick. but I think she’s foreign -  Has some sort of Greek name with only four letters and a sweeping check mark splashed across her dimples. In the process though, I lost track of my cousin, or whatever she was. Oh well…life moves on. 

May 7.

I am first out of that stuffy leather bag. Nice. We’re in the country side. Trees and acres and acres of grass. Life couldn’t sweeter. The fat guy nestles me on to a little wooden stake. The grass smells sweet and the little wooden stake is very comfortable. But then  Fat Man swats me on the ass. No warning. Didn’t hurt but caught me by surprise. And I  am flying through the air, WEEEEEE, before landing about 200 yards away. I must of done a good job because everyone back there is congratulating him, patting him on the shoulder, slapping high fives. But what about me? I am the one doing the flying. No appreciation for that, huh, guys?

Now that I am into this flying thing. I’m working on hang time (that’s staying the air as long as possible for you dorks that don’t know about this) and sense of direction  (I need a little better help from Fat Guy for that). And I am doing this all without wings.  Try that and see how well you do! 

But the day becomes repetitious. Swat and fly. Swat and fly. Me and Fat Guy become a team. We’re in this together. We stop occasionally at a small circle of grass so he can tap me on the butt to force me into a metal hole that contains a flag. Fat Man is not good at this. Not my fault, I try hard but he doesn’t do his part. This causes a lot of cursing and throwing of his short iron on the ground - like it’s the the iron’s fault?. If I  were him, I would just skip these stupid little holes and stay out in the long grass where we’re having fun, but who asked me, huh? 

And then - And then - He smacked me on the butt and I fly out in a wild curve over a couple of trees and land into some tall bushes. He wasn’t happy when he came to find me. He thrashed the bushes with one of his irons, cursing loudly (this guy’s got a mouth!), and his buddies were yelling at him to hurry up. And he gave up. HE JUST  LEAVES ME HERE. He walked away as if he didn’t give a damn. The whole group went on without me. 

Now It’s getting dark. There are all kinds of strange noises in the bushes around me. Squirrels, snakes, chipmunks. A fox. Something licks me as if checking out the taste. Then a snake swallows me whole but spits me back out. This is getting really, really scary. And I never got to say hello to that cute greek girl. Life is unfair.

May 8.

It’s raining  

May 9. 

It’s still raining. I’m miserable. 

May 10. 

Hello, Hello, I’ve been found! It’s not Fat Guy but a younger man. I heard his ball clump into the bushes behind me. Then he waded in with his feet and iron, spreading the bushes apart, and stopped when he saw me. He picked me up and glanced back out on the course to see if anyone else was looking at him. No one. He laughed and put me in his pocket and walked out of the weeds, no longer looking for his own ball. I  don’t like this. What if Fat Man comes back looking for me? He’ll never find me. I am missing him, so maybe he’s missing me. Also, I felt sorry about my new compadre laying back there just a few feet from where I was. This skinny guy just walked away without him. Whatever happened to loyalty?  

May 11 to May 20. 

I’m now a substitute. No longer the first one out of the bag. Being used only when he happens to remember me. And I get all the hard shots. Flying over the creeks and ponds and hopping over the raggedy ass parts of the course where golf balls go to die.I am no longer quick on my feet (or should I say quick on my dimples). It occurred to me that I am now expendable. I am looking older. My bright sheen has gone. 

I have small nicks and cuts here and there. Some of my dimples have dirt embedded in them and he never bothers to wash me. I also often wonder about Fat Man. Is he getting along without me? Does he miss me? 

I often dream about the greek girl. I hope life has been kinder to her than it has been to me. 

May 21. 

Catastrophe. The skinny jerk has splashed me into the water. A large pond near the end of the course. We’ve jumped over this oversized puddle several times in the past but today he just pops me up like a fat ass baseball floating out to centerfield and splunk, I sink. Didn’t even skip across the surface. Just splunk. 

Not so deep in here. Cold, yes, but not so deep. I thought the fool would walk in here to fetch me but no, he plays another ball. He splunked that sucker, too. But he’s good on the third try. Lucky him. Lucky ball. But what about us? 

The skinny jerk just walked away. 

May 26. 

I don’t think I am going to recover from this. Water is starting to seep into my nicks and cuts. Wet bottom grass is enveloping me. I can feel myself deteriorating. But looking back, it was a good life. Had some fun. Met some nice people. Had a nice family. Saw some of the world. Was in love once or twice. What more could you ask for? I hope Fat  Guy is doing well. I…

WORLD CUP by David Radavich

Here they are
running and cutting,
faking to grab
the referees’ eyes

greensward bending
hard as glass

sunlight aching
across the afternoon

one stolen pass
after another

hits to kneecaps

somehow
an orb finally
nestles in the net

rejoicing

shirts in the air—

this poem
without words

Foam Hand Soap photo

image: Jon Carter

The Flying Nun by Lynn Mundell

I am The Flying Nun from the TV show, soaring way up in the clouds with my arms held out stiffly and headpiece flapping like a seagull. My child’s face is superimposed over that of the actress Sally Field. I am not going anywhere. I am just flying in place. I have the dream so often that it is my reality and at age seven I begin trying to fly, jumping off an old toy box my family uses to store our many shoes. I am genuinely surprised when I don’t rise. The box must be too low to take off from. Plus, it’s indoors. I try jumping from the apple tree outside my bedroom window. My father shouts at me through the screen to stop. Although I still don’t fly, my legs grow muscled from climbing and jumping. The dream continues, sustaining me through third grade, when I’m bullied and would give anything to fly away. I pursue its same feeling of euphoria when I’m awake. At 10 I begin jumping from the roof, aiming for the swimming pool 12 feet below in case I don’t fly, which I don’t. I do become a very good diver, though. One day my parents come home early from work and see me. My father yells. The next day my mother begins entering me in competitions. We travel all over the Western U.S. and then the nation, where I come to know other swimmers better than my school classmates. The dream stays the same in all of the hotels with twin beds and nubby bath towels. My heavy cloth habit is no hindrance; I just keep flying in place and smiling. By 18 I am launching from the highest diving boards across the country. A sporting goods company names a white string bikini that is unsuitable for swimming competitions after me. My younger sister buys three. I spend every waking hour diving like a cormorant into the water. I often have athlete’s foot. I can’t spare any time for boys and sex. I’ve made a vow: I will be the best woman diver in the world. I don’t have the dream anymore. One night, as I sleep in the Olympic Village before the games begin, Sally Field comes to me. She is not The Flying Nun. She is just Sally Field. She looks exhausted. She is walking because she is loaded down with dozens of medals on ribbons she wears around her neck and is dragging a trophy as big as a cello. I wake up as unhappy as Sally Field. At my competition the following morning, when my name is called I walk forward. I pull off my swim cap, drawing on the nun’s headpiece I’ve fashioned from several of the dining hall’s starched cloth napkins and safety pins. Climbing the ladder to the board, I pass my mother in the bleachers signaling at me like an air traffic marshal trying to land a plane. I motion her down in a sort of genuflect. Standing at the edge of the diving board, I can see the white wings in my peripheral vision, exactly where they’re meant to be if I’m ever to take off.

Anne Carson, Holding Midfielder by Pete Segall

Problems With Narratives

The story goes: the players from Dynamo Kiev were shot — wearing their uniforms — for refusing to lose a match to a team of Wehrmacht soldiers during the German occupation of Ukraine. But that never happened. It’s a bedtime story for those swaddled in the blanket of history. They sleep dreaming of crying birds and lovers driving through unnavigable cities. The nonghosts of the nondead — wearing their uniforms — are the only ones fit to compose these dreams.

 

Ignominy

Nobody could believe that the United States beat England in the 1950 World Cup, in Uruguay. The score was 1-0. The man who scored the goal was a Haitian immigrant named Joe Gaetjens who worked as a dishwasher. Nobody knows what became of him. Possibly, he was murdered by the Tontons Macoute. Galeano misidentifies him as “Larry.”

 

George Best and Pele in a Limousine to JFK

“I understand Titan but I do not understand Io.”

“Celestial bodies are all liars.”

 

Non-Normative Value Systems

We the boys who did not win score compete in any sense but nominal decided that we could win in violence. The final score my elbow 2 that kid’s ribs nil.

 

The Intentions of Algorithms

If you search the website of an English bookseller for Gazza Agonistes, the book-length essay by Ian Hamilton about Paul Gascoigne, the English striker of the 1980s and 90s whose career and life have been mangled by alcoholism and mental illness, the first titles that come up are: Alcohol and Drug Misuse; Clinical Management of the Elderly Patient in Pain; GABA and Sleep; Retinoid and Rexinoid Signaling.

 

Ibra

The demon-child who hoofs around outside my house loves to ring my doorbell and run away. I always know it’s him because the ringing is scorched. I don’t chase after him any longer, threaten to report him to the authorities or his demon-parents. When I did, he dangled from the gutter and sang his hymns. They were appalling and lovely, and he refused to teach me the words.

 

My Son and I Watch Panama Score Their First World Cup Goal Ever Against England, in a Pub Off of Tottenham Court Road

Let the doomed and the damned rejoice.

 

Solitude

Camus, of course, passable goalie in Algeria: “What I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football.” Lev Yashin, Russian thaumaturge goalie: “The joy of of seeing Yuri Gagarin flying in space is only superseded by the joy of a good penalty save.” Handke, genocide apologist: “The goalkeeper, who was wearing a bright yellow jersey, stood absolutely still, and the penalty kicker shot the ball into his hands.” The spirit was met by Anubis, who was without his scales. He looked askew and splay-brained. How are you handling this, asked the spirit. Just gotta guess, said Anubis. Make it up on the fly. No instructions, no guidance. Just make it up on the fly. Ready to get on with it?

 

Determinism

We all want to know how it ends. The contraption careens downhill. There are sparks in the dust cloud. Nobody listens to the sadsack saying we know what’s going to happen all along. His teeth are twenty watt yellow and his posture is wilting. Ask at the fairground sideshow. Or elsewhere. Voices crawl out of their burrows claiming to have information on tomorrow. A boy looks at what he’s done in the toilet for a picture of his life to come. Lake harpies say suspense is a conspiracy and hawk foreknowledge in bunches of six. The newlyweds, delirious from the oceans, trains, and roads, flip on the television in their hotel room. The cup final is on. The championship will be decided by a fairground sideshow the commentator says when the match goes to penalty kicks. She falls asleep under slashes of midday sun. He sits at the edge of the bed. The answer was right in front of us the whole time they each tell their lawyer, some years down the road.

Seattle Mariners 2 photo

image: Aaron Burch

The Hour after Ryan Newman’s Crash by Alex Gurtis

at the 2020 Daytona 500, we watched
a blank screen, inhaled, and waited
after an ambulance cleared the debris
and took him away. Honey, how
do you start this watch?
My fiancé blows out a candle
spilling red wax. It looks
like a knife wound leaking
onto the carpet. Surgically, we
clean the fabric on our knees. A drop
gets on my wooden watch. I take an old
credit card and scrap its face smooth.
Annoyed by its inability to cheat death,
I desperately twist its pin, a soldier
priming a grenade that sounds
like Big Ben ringing in the New Year.
The little hand finally starts ticking. Seconds 
become minutes become hours and my eyes
are glued to its track, watching
the hands chase each other
along their predestined path.

TERENCE CRAWFORD by JD Debris

 

No stories inside the heavy bag pouring its foam intestines all over the floor of the

repurposed warehouse;

no confessions beaten out of it despite being beaten

& beaten. A heavy bag suspended from

the ceiling

never hangs completely still. Untouched for hours, watch it twitch at the end of its chain

after the white,

cylindrical lights no longer buzz & steel gates clang across the entrance. A few boxers walk

home, gloves slung

over their shoulders, discussing slasher films. A few await an illicit delivery, linger out front.

A few drive

to a muddy riverfront & spar bare-knuckle in moonlight.

One boxer, thrown out of his

mother’s & sleeping in his Cutlass,

wakes at midnight, finds a dice game, strikes lucky, rolls a streak of sevens....

Even now,

the story rattles

around my skull as if jacketed in metal: Terence Crawford, boxer, counting twenties, fifties,

hundreds

in the front seat of his Cutlass—then a bullet piercing tinted glass. The rest? Promoters love

to tell it

(sells tickets) & I admit, I tell myself in those weak, tremoring hours, how Terence

Crawford, with a bullet

in his skull, drove himself to the hospital.

Sometimes I repeat it, hammering emphases:

bullet skull drove HIMSELF.

Terence hates retelling it, resists the redemption narrative, the slick epiphany. He makes a

million off

a fight these days, goes home to Omaha, goes fishing.... Slow that shell’s rotations to half

the speed of snowfall,

you’ll trace its path around, & not through, cortex & tissue. Ballistics offers a story, but no

solution.

No song in the retelling, only wind through the bones of an urban legend. Then the skeleton

goes missing.

~

What I loved about Crawford, as I leaned over the balcony at Madison Square & watched

him clobber

a Dominican ex-Olympian senseless, was his lack of panic, his laconic lean-back in the

pocket, pawing,

parrying like he had eternity in the Garden, no rush to action. Then, the sudden southpaw

shift in stance,

the strike, the sting, the straight right hand. What I loved was his sadist’s streak & quiet

arrogance.

His way of saying fuck y’all with a glance. Blood on black gloves. Steadily dismantling the

threat.

~

As he blasted through red lights en route to the Omaha ER, what laundry from that Cutlass’

leather interior

staunched his rushing blood—a grey, sweat-hardened wifebeater or sock, an improvised,

tangled tourniquet

of handwraps? He’s been shot at eight times since, his estimate.

A chorus: these streets

are—this sport is—war

& what’s war resolved? Nothing, yuh?

A chorus:—with Cutlass, laundry, & blood—for

Terence Crawford’s

sniper-steady dice & uppercuts, hitting lucky sevens & solar plexuses as if he’ll never miss,

has never missed before.

Ken Griffey Jr Collage photo

image: Jack C. Buck

Scheissgutzeit by Michael Somes

I went to the Kentucky Derby and did not see a single fucking horse the entire time I was there. I spent Derby day huddling under a Maker's Mark promotional tent with my future roommate and about ninety-nine other strangers in a vain attempt to seek shelter from a driving rain that started about five minutes after we got there and continued until right after we'd gone too far from the track to turn around and head back. I didn't see any horses, but I did see a few members of the Westboro Baptist Church or maybe a different far-right evangelical congregation; it doesn't matter, really. They called me a fornicator.

A scheissgutzeit is a word I made up that combines the German words for shit, good, and time. A scheissgutzeit is an experience that is, by any objective measure, unpleasant, and yet one remembers it fondly. A scheissgutzeit cannot be beneficial or edifying in any significant way. Running a marathon is not a scheissgutzeit. Being locked in a room with a bunch of heavily intoxicated young men about your own age and not allowed out until someone has broken a bone is not a scheissgutzeit either; the term for that is hazing. A scheissgutzeit is just a thing that happens sometimes, somewhere at the intersection of the sunk-cost fallacy and a day that somehow manages to be frustrating enough that it horseshoes back around toward decent.

A horse named Social Inclusion ran in that year's race, and I was convinced it was going to be put down on the racetrack. People ought to be more responsible for how they name their horses, instead of risking life's love of unsubtle symbolism. Although, if it were up to me, at least one horse every year should be required to have a name like “I Drink Mint Juleps on the Graves of the Working Class.”

Either way, even if Social Inclusion was put down on the track or if someone had pointed out that A Horse Named Social Inclusion sounded like the title of a lesser known Tennessee Williams play, I was in no position to notice. I'd envisioned that attending the Kentucky Derby meant sitting in the stands and calmly watching thoroughbreds go tearing around the oval while I passed around drinks to my friends and possibly even strange women in outrageously large hats. Tom Brady got to do that. I went to the infield.

According to the Churchill Downs guide, the infield had a “music festival” atmosphere. That meant people got drunk enough to piss on the ground. They might not have understood the risk that an A-lister might spot them through a pair of opera glasses, which they would slowly lower to the ground before saying, to nobody in particular, “I do declare.”

Or maybe the people pissing on the ground had thought about this and decided it was still preferable to braving the gauntlet of evangelicals that congregated around the line for the toilets. They may have done this out of a desire to exploit a captive audience, or possibly out of a misplaced conviction about what it meant to suffer for their faith.

One of them held a megaphone and took time to harangue each person that came by. He'd spot a wrinkled betting ticked in someone's hand and chastise them for being an inveterate gambler. He derided the doomed alcoholics tossing away their plastic cups. Finally, he got to me.

I took him a moment, because I did not carry any of the outward signs of participating in the usual vices that someone can participate in during a horse race. I wasn't actually old enough to drink, and I hadn't placed any bets. I expected him to skip me and move on, but he must have enjoyed probing my soul for secret iniquities. The megaphone crackled as he pressed down the button.

“You are a fornicator!”

I'd never heard someone caress a word before when they spoke, but that was what this guy was doing with “fornicator.”

“And let me tell you, you don't fornicate on accident. You don't fall over and say 'whoops, I fornicated.'”

I'd been called a lot of things in my life, but “intentional fornicator” was never one of them. Nobody before or since has looked at me and thought “I'll bet that guy has a ton of sex.” I'd never understood the appeal of fundamentalist cults, but that was probably the closest I got to being recruited. In a crowd of drunk college students and middle aged gamblers, I was the fornicator—a true Missouri ten.

My roommate tapped me on the shoulder. “I'm freezing my ass off here.”

His horses hadn't done well. Contrary to the advice of the betting guide, the favored horses were still better at running on mud than the underdogs.

Zion and Lonzo photo

image: Ed Himelblau

L—O—N—G by Julianne Neely

Pheidippides, rise!
                                a new cadence
                                                                                the void is not something created
                                                                male elites

                                        dreading the void
avoid coming to and entering it
                                2,500-year-old man
                                                                if the heart explodes, then
                                                                                                          tear, tug, wail, roar, cry,
I, I, I, I, I,
                writing motion as feminist space
                                                                a lot of people do not care
                                                                                                          I might not either
                                                            refusing the syntactic, mythic,

                        and thematic models
verse that grants itself agency
                                                any long-drawn out activity is called
                                                                                                        a marathon, colloquially
                                                                it is eerie to know yourself
                                for instance, to watch
your protein synthesize in a way
                                                    greater than its breakdown
                                                                                                did Pheidippides die with grace
                                                        is the question I ask but
                history avoids the answer
I put on my sports bra
                                this is a moment that does not warrant critical attention
                                                                                                                it was the year 490 BC
a lot of battle
                        it is hard not to have a preconceived sense of
                                                                                                my limitations
                                                                                                                where endurance begins
                                                                                                and never ends
                                my standard for new poems are rigorous
I long for a new cadence
                                woman constructing linguistic map
                                                                                        a route to
                                                                                                        a precise moment in history
                                                                           a precise moment
                                                in a personal life
                some say delusional
that goes beyond language
                                                into a subtle dimension
                                                                                        of impractical mysticism
                                                                                                                                nobody is
                                                                                        the protagonist though many
                                        believe they are
                the lyrical I
in what becomes for the poet a signature poetic gesture,
                                                                                                I long for meaningful communication
                              it was 150 miles from Athens to Sparta
reiterated in lines
                                that traverse out existential loneliness
                                                                                              Pheidippides did it in 48 hours

                                        nineteen minutes per mile pace
embodied self-reliance
                                        hard-wrought transformation
                                                                                        of isolation into solitude
                                                                                                                                I really love being
                                                                                alone for most hours of the day
thinking and repeating depictions of a sustained moment of consciousness
                                                                                                                        the modern marathon
                                                                race to commemorate something
   the way poems stir women and women
the messenger was killed
                                        the heart fails
                                                                under extreme duress
                                                                                                   body language
                                                                                                                            ironically necessary
                                                                                                he left at daybreak
                                I make sure everyone is gone by daybreak
the poet rewrites versions of the same poem,
                                                                        fairly flat, fertile country
                                                                                                             skeletal forms
thence along the river
                                   I see it as a poem I had been building towards,
                                                                                                              a summation
                                                                             stony paths followed
in some respects, this is my most personal poem to date
                                                                                        the remainder of the run is uncertain
                                        did he even once stop for water
            without hydration
the body cannot regulate its temperatures
                                                                    the heart works harder to pump blood
                                                                                                                                in a search
                                                                            for language to register complex
                                                                emotion
it is not uncommon for long distance runners to collapse
                                                                                          and die after an arduous run
                                                                                                                                      what dictates
                                                                                that women must see each other
                        as competitors the speaker refuses
Pheidippdes, speak!
                                  he said so many things
                                                                        I refuse to adhere
                                                                                                      to traditional adages that split
                                                                women from each other
                                a slip of the tongue
joy to you, we’ve won
                                   the right to become a metaphor
                                                                                      for institutionalized fear
                                                                                                                             joy to you

                                        if the poem takes striking and semantic syntactic risks
                      joy we win
compromising my craft
                                     we win
                                                 meticulously selecting each word
                                                                                                       hail we are the winners
                                               a language and form stripped bare
             you play the game to
lose your balance
                             fail to keep duration
                                                             check your heart rate you just might not be alive

Self-Portrait as a Rodeo Clown by Jon Lemay

There used to be some eloquence in all this crisis
management. Here, in the eye of the American Colosseum,
my painted self has room to spare. Joe bet me twenty bucks
that someone would die this season. Then he and Cliff
got punctured—Joe in the heart, Cliff through the throat.
I never paid him. Even in the deepest sleep I hear a ring,
an opening gate, the wail of a frightened baby. I'm just trying
to settle into a life where sadness can't pursue me,
where the barrel begins to feel like home.

Self-Portrait as the 1991 Detroit Pistons by Jon Lemay

In the ‘89 and ‘90 seasons, the Detroit Pistons practiced an aggressively physical
style of play that led them to two consecutive NBA championship titles. Although this
approach took the once-failing franchise to new heights, it also imbued the Pistons
with a menacing reputation, making them the most hated team in the league and
earning them the nickname “the Bad Boys.”

But what else would I do? Return to living
a life in which no one depends on me?
We all only wake up every morning because someone
told us yesterday needs a sequel. If I don’t
love someone, I will try to ruin them, and when I'm done,
they’ll say they don’t recognize themselves—
except they do: they just hate what they see.
I swirl in your chest like a cyclone of flies descending
and ascending in a haze of streetlight. Have I done
all I can to keep soul and body together? I only want
everyone else to remind you of me,
but no one could ever really remind you of me.
How wonderful to realize that after so long—
after knowing me so well—you could still be mine.

Back Nine by Claire Hopple

I asked my dad why we weren’t taking the Turnpike to Erie and he said the tolls are outrageous.

You can see it traveling north on the Pennsylvania Turnpike: a beacon of oddity alongside the Oakmont Country Club. This mural of a bright orange tabby cat playing with a classic ball of twine, the words PUDGIE-WUDGIE across it. 

That was the only reason I asked or even noticed which way we were going. I wanted to see it again. I wanted to make sure it was still there on what might be the last trip to see my grandma. She’s survived all the other grandparents. The only one standing. Well, not really standing. 

“What began as a few amazing tricks turned into a life of international celebrity,” says pudgiewudgie.com. The becostumed, toddler-sized cat appeared in National Enquirer and a Dad’s Cat Food commercial, but also on the shows of Maury Povich and David Letterman. 

Pudgie-Wudgie was adopted by Frank Furko in 1986, the same year I was born. Furko used to be a lineman at Plum High School, a Korean war vet, and a musician in a polka band, which totals up to the truest of yinzers. He once played the accordion for Elvis, according to his obituary in the Trib. 

Our black cat was named Midnight, which seemed clever at the time. When Kevin McCallister in Home Alone 2 flaunted his Talkboy on screen, I needed it. And once I got this recorder with its spacey robot aesthetic, one of the first things I did was interview my cat. There was a lot of silence. I persisted with further questions, but he refused even the slightest mewling into the microphone. 

Tiger Woods had to wonder who this cat was. Maybe he even tried a quick Google search when he wasn’t on the green at one of the nine U.S. Opens the Oakmont Country Club has hosted. Did he envision Frank jamming on an accordion for Elvis and Pudgie-Wudgie in heaven? Did they choreograph a traditional polka dance complete with bold sways of their hips? 

We gave away Midnight after only a year or two. My sister was allergic. Somehow the school nurse found out. She was incensed. She always smelled like cat pee and her skin looked like sewn-together rawhide. Why didn’t Erin just get shots, she wanted to know. My sister also found out she was allergic to dust and that meant I was suddenly responsible for swabbing her turtle figurine collection with the duster every few weeks. So maybe I should have taken cues from the school nurse and asked more questions. But if we kept score like that, I’d be on the losing end.

So Close
 photo

image: Aaron Burch

Psalm #3 by Avery Gregurich

for Babe Ruth

 

Even in death, the Babe could draw, so
they planted his coffin at the main gate,
opened up the lid, and sold concessions.
For two days they let them all see the
savior, precious oil poured over his head,
formaldehyde thick in his veins. Someone was
hired to swat the flies. Thousands came to lift
up kids to the rim, holding baseballs each that
later were put into attic boxes. On the third
day, he did not rise, but his body was gone,
taken away from the house he’d built by
men in the night. Nevermind that some of
these mourners would decades later mail
threats to Hank Aaron, saying they’d kidnap
his daughter, use a hunting rifle on him
from the nosebleeds if he kept on swinging. No,
no, no. It’s best to ruminate on the King. See
him smoking in that pointed crown, pledging a
finger toward heaven where the next pitch was
headed. Later he appeared to Benny in a VHS
dream saying “Legends never die.” And so it has
always been. I’m straight wrong: America’s pastime
is not all chalkdust real estate, carpet-bombing
neighborhoods to erect monolithic cathedrals
where men attempt to get other men out, forever.
Instead, I like to recite Psalms 133. It starts “How
good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together
in unity!” I read the rest aloud from a page I found
blowing at the edge of a cornfield after harvest. It was
torn, naturally, and it brushed me back a little, holding
names like Aaron and Herman right there together, as if
God always thought home runs were a thing worth
dying over.

Curtains Always Win by Kevin Maloney

Against my better judgment, I pay $54.99 for a service called YouTube TV so I can watch the Blazers in the Playoffs. The Blazers are the fifth seed, which is like being the eighth seed, only more tragic when we lose to the Jazz or Rockets or whatever talented sadists arrive in our city this year, overturning our food carts, making fun of our latte art.

This time it’s the Nuggets, a gang of murderous he-goblins led by a Serbian caveman named Nikola. He’s 6’11” with an 11’6” foot wingspan who moves across the court like a Harry Potter dementor. He’s going to beat out Lillard for MVP, which is like the pile of dogshit I stepped in this morning beating out Jimi Hendrix for best rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Speaking of which—have you heard about goodness and light? The peace that surpasses understanding? We have a point guard in Portland who shoots like Mozart tuning his harpsichord, DaVinci drawing pictures of naked men in circles. Instead of bringing the ball up to the three-point line and calling a play like a regular point guard, he pulls up from half court, shoots for no reason. The ball hits the backboard, makes a sound like Sir Isaac Newton apologizing for physics. It goes in.

Lillard walks backwards tapping his wrist, which means, “As God’s only son, it’s my duty to inform you that Nuggets is a stupid name for a basketball team.”

Anne says, “Are you okay? Why are you crying and laughing at the same time?”

I say, “Lillard did… logo. Half. My.”

She holds up her phone and says, “Do you think we should get white curtains with gold specks or cream curtains with palm fronds?”

I say, “When I was a kid, my dad would come home from work and sit on the couch and drink beer. When the Blazers won was the closest thing I experienced to love.”

“What’s that baby?”

“Palm fronds,” I say.

Michael Porter Jr. brings the ball up the court. Michael Porter Jr. is what you name your kid if you want him to grow up to be Scrooge McDuck’s monocle salesman or a malevolent basketball player with freakish eyebrows. He passes to Jokic. Jokic posts up, does a spin move, makes the basket. “And one!” say the announcers.

“And one” is another way of saying “the evil giant from Belgrade cuts checks to refs, promises Balkan delicacies to their referee wives.”

He makes his free-throw and drags his knuckles, retreating to his cave with Lillard’s invisible watch between his teeth.

I crack an IPA and drink it and crack a second IPA and drink it until my field of vision is a blurry wonderland. This is the only way to watch the Trail Blazers, which is why my city invented craft beer. Four-point-two percent? Fuck you. How about an 8.4% imperial IPA called “Paul Bunyon’s Ax Grease.” Pour it into my veins as Kobe and Shaq lead a 15-point fourth quarter comeback in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.

CJ inbounds to Lillard. Lillard dribbles twice, pulls up from the logo. The ball traces a wild arc. In the moment it hangs there, what does he think about? His third-grade crush? The time he wiped a booger on the back of a chair in social studies—is it still there?

No. He thinks, “The ball has already passed through the hoop. This shot was made long before I was born.”

He sits on the court, cross-legged, begins chanting the sacred syllable OM.

The ball goes in. Portland fans stand up and scream.

In Portland we have so little.

Things we have: roses, India Pale Ale, aging hipsters with grey hair and vintage Nirvana t-shirts.

This moment isn’t just “basketball” or “playoffs” for us. It’s a contest between good and evil. On the one hand: the Vitamin-D deprived descendants of dysentery-ridden Pioneers. On the other: the Golden Nuggets of Aspen, skiing in the sun all day, buying cocaine on dad’s credit card.

Austin Rivers brings the ball up the court and passes to Jokic. The graceful Cro-Magnon pulls up for three. It goes in. Since when do seven-foot Serbians have the delicate touch of shooting guards? I hope Vladimir Putin has a bad day, annexes his country.

“Who’s winning?” asks Anne.

“Darkness,” I say. “Malevolence. The realization that things won’t get better eventually.”

Anne nods. She isn’t listening. She’s buying curtains on Amazon.com. Whether the Blazers win or lose, an Amazon truck will appear tomorrow, drop a package on our porch. In this way, Anne demonstrates her mastery of karma yoga, indifference to the fruit of right action.

Rain-soaked Lillard appears out of a Douglas fir forest holding a chainsaw and an IPA. He receives the inbound pass, surveys the court.

Look closely at his tattoos: wings, Oakland, Bible verse. Look at his face: stone cold, Jedi, moving objects with his mind.

He moves the ball with his mind. It goes through the basket, comes back out, goes back in again. The refs look at each other, shrug, award him four points.

In Portland, for nine months, there’s no sunlight. Gray clouds cover our existence. We hear a persistent voice in the rain, mocking us, reminding us that life is temporary and pointless. All twelve of our bridges advertise a phone number to call where people give you reasons not to jump. We had a hero once who lived here named Elliott Smith. He moved to L.A. and stabbed himself in the heart.

If Damian Lillard ever moves to L.A., everyone in Portland will stab ourselves in the heart, but first we’ll record a bunch of amazing music.

Lillard takes the inbound pass, pulls up from the logo. It hits the rim, misses. Austin Rivers gets the rebound, shoots from the top of the key, makes it. I call the suicide hotline, but it’s busy. I step outside and the rain falls on my head, turning my hair into soggy octopus tentacles.

Anne comes outside with a beer and hands it to me.

“It’ll be okay,” she says.

“No, it won’t,” I say. “The Blazers won’t win. Even if we came back and won this series, the Suns would crush us. And then there’s Utah, to say nothing of the All-Star team masquerading as the 2021 Nets.”

“Why do you do this to yourself?”

“All of us are going to be skeletons one day, and we still brush our teeth. Why do we do anything?”

I light a cigarette even though I quit smoking eleven years ago. Through the window, I watch Lillard bring it up the court. Aaron Gordon pulls out an ax, hacks Lillard into tiny pieces, stuffs him in a duffel bag, drops him in the Willamette River. The refs don’t call a foul.

“Do you want a blowjob?” asks Anne.

“Yes.”

“Ugh, never mind. I don’t know why I said that. Disregard. You just seem so sad.”

“I am.”

“It’s just a game.”

“It doesn’t feel that way.”

Jokic posts up. Nurkić lightly touches his hip. Two Multnomah County police officers walk onto the court, put Nurkić in handcuffs, charge him with assault, take him to jail.

“Can I tell you something?” asks Anne.

“If you’re having an affair, I don’t want to know. Let me enjoy these last few minutes of unhappiness.”

“I ordered the white curtains with gold specks. When you said you like palm fronds better, it made me realize I don’t like palm fronds. I ordered gold specks.”

“You were smart to order curtains,” I say. “Curtains always win.”

The Nuggets pull ahead by eleven. Terry Stotts surrenders, pulls the stars. Mediocre players take the court.

“I’m going for a walk,” I say.

“I love you,” says Anne.

“Nobody loves anybody,” I say.

I wander around my neighborhood, stepping in puddles, almost getting hit by cars. Through every window, I see them—sad men like me crying in front of their televisions. They try to drink IPAs, miss their mouths, pour beer over new furniture.

I could have masturbated tonight. Watched a Pink Floyd documentary. Had guaranteed pleasure in a thousand ways. Instead, I paid $54.99 to watch athletes from New York, Bosnia, and Switzerland play an arbitrary, meaningless sport on behalf of Portland, Oregon, a city they barely heard of before getting drafted or traded here. Why do I do this to myself?

Then I remember—May 2, 2014. Damian Lillard on the inbound play. Clapping his hands, the off balance three. For a few seconds, God Almighty was among us. The sky ripped apart, and all the stars fell out, and they fell on my city. They didn’t fall on yours.

I opened the window. You could hear people crying in the streets, cars honking. As loud as I could, I screamed, “Damian Lillard is a god!” Someone yelled back, “Rip City, baby!”

It wasn’t the finals, but it may as well have been.

We don’t ask for much here in Portland. One or two sunny days between rainstorms. An 8.4% IPA to sip while Bay Area refugees buy up all our houses. And every once in a while—a deep playoff victory.

Tomorrow we’ll have new curtains. One day the earth will be devoured by the sun, but tonight we sat in front of our TVs begging for Jesus to come back to the earth. And for a few hours he did. He walked on water, and we believed in Him until He drowned.

Perfect Day by Shane Kowalski

Bowling is not a warlike game. Nothing strikes back. You get ten tries to do it again. The pins do not seek retribution. I’m in the Zone today—feel it in my Hands, my Heart. The world can’t enter. Today is another day. I drink my Rolling Rock on a vinyl divan. I watch the cracked, red explosions of the lights above each lane. The dulled, beaten pins below waiting to be knocked again. Who is anyone to feel safe?  

Jimmy Barlow got laid off last Tuesday. He still comes to Leagues. In his chewed-on shoes. He says Jesus did this. It’s 7 o’clock on a Tuesday night here and the blue collars are chatting up theories, possible and impossible conspiracies. I know the Truth. This wasn’t an accident. We’re all meant for one Impossible Day. Even Winners don’t get to sleep. I’m in the Zone. It’s preordained. The world can’t be saved every day.  

The State must be abolished. I take the ball in my hands, pretend it’s the skull of virtue I’m tossing at each  Industry that continues our Suffering. What’s the trick? Conviction. In. Beliefs. How could I not be winning now? Who couldn’t love this son-of-a-bitch throwing meteors at the ten moons of Krypton? Know thyself. 

At the bar they have two TVs. One is playing coverage of today’s events. Infinite planes disappearing into infinite towers. The other is playing a rerun of Married With Children. In one way or another, aren’t we all married with children? Don’t we all have to protect what’s ours? Isn’t everything that happens every day to us ours?  

Except this Strike. I can’t share it with anybody. It’s mine. Harry says I’m on a roll. I know he’s jealous. He  drinks his beer and will go home to a three-legged dog and a wife who thinks Uncle Sam is Jesus. I can’t teach him the Infinite Spin Technique. I can’t undo his Trauma. What would I do if I wasn’t here?  

Probably dismantling the Prison Industrial Complex. Probably putting a brick through a cop’s windshield. I  could be siphoning back the money from the great terrorist banks that have perpetuated infinite falling towers since the dawn of mollusks. But I have a bowling ball in my hands and I’m in the Zone. Who will remember this?  

One Strike leads to another Strike. And another. And so on. Until the Universe is made. I read it in a book.  We have no business being here otherwise. I can feel the secrets of the world inside me. The smell of nachos, hot dogs, stale floor in the air. Terrorism is just another form of Capitalism. We go home with ravaged bodies, belly aches, heads throbbing, and climb back into the darkness to live again.  

I have a wife at home I love. Who loves me. When I’m finished here, I’ll go home and lie next to her, and  while she sleeps, I’ll whisper into her ear The things I know for certain in this world are LBJ killed Kennedy and I  love you. I bowl another Strike for posterity. Harry, sweaty drunk, laughs and says I’m perfect like he  doesn’t want to believe what his eyes are seeing. Of course. It happens all the time. Someone somewhere  screams. 

I’m in the Zone. I grew up wet, alone, confused in a cave—taught myself Greek, String Theory, Radical  Compassion, Sonatas in A-minor, Communism—I can whistle perfectly “Tutti Frutti”—I can bowl a  Perfect Game. I know my name and that’s all that matters. What stops me from stopping the ills of the world, you ask? I have to go to work. The world turns on without me. Somebody dies. Another person dies. Infinite buildings fall. Somebody stop me from being Perfect! Reverse the course of History! But there  is nobody who will come to slap the bowling ball from my hands. Time Travel doesn’t exist. Except for  Winners. I’m not a Winner though… 

I’m just another guy who’s having another day. I’m alive. We’re always in the dust of the dustup, always in the fog of the forests, always in the leap of the frog—a philosopher writing in Chinese said that. I make  sense of my continual survival by standing alone on a mountain, on just another day, like any other day.  Could’ve been tomorrow for all I know. Strike! The world can crumble around you and your friends and  family might leave you and you might find an orphan beaten to death in the middle of Grand Central  Station, but today is still just another day. Never forget… You do something once in your life and they  throw roses at your feet. That’s all it takes. One time. It’s perfect.