At Fifty

When Duke and North Carolina, a men’s basketball rivalry that seems to have been around forever, played a little over a week ago, tickets for the game were going for an average of almost $3,000, the highest ticket price, some $10,000.

Some came for the rivalry, but many came to see Zion Williamson, the astonishing Duke freshman. In the first 33 seconds of that game, Williamson’s shoe broke apart, damaging his knee. He never reappeared.

Shoes. In the early 70’s when my father was the coach at PITT (The University of Pittsburgh), he was approached by a guy with a scheme he wanted my father to join. The scheme? To have a shoe company pay my father “big money” if he would have his players wear the shoe he represented. Dad said, in his rather understated way, “Something seemed fishy.”

My father said no. But he was concerned the pitchman would hound him or make him “an offer he couldn’t refuse,” and asked the university to provide security.

The guy went elsewhere, and the world of college basketball became a world where coaches made millions, and the players became marketing pawns, and fans paid up to $10,000 to see a nineteen-year-old phenom play for 33 seconds.

Within a year my father, who loved coaching, retired. He was only in his 50s. He was making $19,000 a year.

My mother, with a rueful laugh, often said, “My husband retired BS.” (Before Shoes). “We could have retired to some island off Florida if he hadn’t believed that offer was ‘fishy’.”

45 would say, “What a loser.”

At Fifty

Coach hurls the ball against the garage door,
grabs it on the rebound. He’s missed ten
in a row. He steps to the line, bounces
the ball twice, hard, and the fans from
thirty years ago send their hopes across
their weary lungs. He listens to the hush
of the home crowd while the taunts
of those from out of town float through
the rafters down across the backboard,
spinning around and around the rim.
He slams the ball one more time, feels
the leather, eyes the hoop, shoots.
The ball caroms off the back of the rim, rolls
across the driveway into the herb garden
his wife planted the year they found this house.
Once, he could drop nine out of ten
from the line, hit half his jump shots
from twenty feet. Coach sits down at
the top of the key, stares, sees himself
bringing it up against the press, faking,
shaking his shoulders, stutter stepping, shifting
the ball left hand to right, then back, then up,
his legs exploding, his wrist firing, the ball
looping up, down, through the hoop, making
the net shimmer, the crowd roar. He gets up,
goes over to the garden, reaches for the ball,
stops and pulls some weeds growing through
the oregano, basil, sage, and thyme.

–Jack Ridl

from Losing Season (CavanKerry Press)

I’ll be leading a workshop about approaches to writing personal history on March 23 at Grace Episcopal Church in Holland, Michigan, 10am-1:30pm. Contact the church for details, registration, etc.

Poetry Trauma: The Way to Recovery workshop is filled. But there is a wait list. Sign up here to put yourself on it. If we get enough people on the waitlist, we will add another section of this workshop..

Protest, Poems, and Jazz: A Gala for the Goldfinch.  Jack’s new book, Saint Peter and the Goldfinch, is winging its way off the presses. RSVP here if you can join us on April 5 to celebrate!. We’re so excited to welcome the Persisterhood Choir, who will kick off the evening, and the John Shea Trio, who will take the stage with Jack and create a conversation between jazz and poems. Then it’s party time, with more jazz, books, nibbles and sips.

Kristin Brace’s new chapbookEach Darkness Inside, can be ordered through April 12 from Finishing Line Press. It will be shipped in June.

Mark Hiskes’ new book is on the way! Watch Dos Madres Press for news!

Saugatuck’s D.R. James has a new chapbook coming out! Click here for a pre-order discount!

28 thoughts on “At Fifty

  1. Loved Buzz, and this sweet remembrance. With this, I am pulled there, watching him sweat in the drive and the garden. BTW, Did you know I now live exactly halfway between Duke and UNC-CH?

    • Barb, I so remember how you much you loved him. It was palpable and meant a lot,
      a whole lot to him. And I know that you can still see him in those settings,
      his settings!!!

      Halfway between those two. “Caught in the middle again!” I love it.
      And you

    • He seems closer all the time.
      To think you feel this way, Susan, well, it is
      something hard for me to imagine in terms of myself.
      Bets was the cheerleader. Me? Well, I hope so.

    • We had such a good visit today with your real and difficult to compose poems.
      It’s a joy and an honor really to get to be with you with them.
      As for my integrity. Who can know. Hope so.

    • It is sad, isn’t it?! Sigh. Let’s just play ball and cut the
      other stuff out of the joy that can be sport.
      Thank you, my friend.
      Write on!!!!!

  2. I don’t have an e-mail address for you, or I would have forwarded this on to you. Go to Poem-a-Day | and read today’s poem (and the brief write-up at the end). It made me think of you – and if I’m totally in left field on this, sorry to have wasted your time.

  3. I read this post from a barrier island of Florida, Anna Maria Island! Back home now in frozen Chicago. Have you and Julie visited the Keys this winter?
    This poem is beautiful and sad and noble.
    Like yours, my father was in the army during WW2. My father was shot while in the Philippines but survived. He had a long life with my mother. Reading about your dad I can picture our dads becoming good friends had they met. Maybe they are good friends now.

    • Good friends for sure, Jim. My father, too, was in the Philippines. And Julie was rasied
      there because her father was in charge of Subic Bay.
      “Beautiful, sad, and noble.” You’re a reader and boy, does that mean a lot, a whole lot, to me.
      The Keys–how we miss ’em. We sold our houseboat–in one day! Gonna use the cash to head elsewhere.
      So why are we freezing still here? Gotta wonder.
      So so good to hear from you.
      So good.

      • Wow! It’s such a big world but your father, my father, Julie’s father and Julie have this connection to the Philippines.
        All of us are making good use of our sweaters. I bet you will have a fine trip planned soon.
        My best wishes,

    • Talk about not knowing whether to run for cover at the horror of
      this unChristian and nonChristian “Christianity” or to fall off
      my chair laughing at it’s ludicrous lack of intelligence.
      Both? I guess it’s both. Only those this inanely stupid
      can bring horror on the rest of us. Poor Jesus.
      I miss seeing ya!

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