Autistic Basketball 

You are following Jesse

through a new-to-you part

of his neighborhood. You ask

if he knows where he’s going,

how far, and he says straight.

You ask again, he points ahead.

You sat at the morning table

listing activities on the page

he titled Saturday September

15. He chose basketball instead

of the Lake Champlain ferry.

He walks with his two hands

in front of him, holding the ball

like a mechanical waiter

balancing a tray. No dribbling

between his legs, behind his back,

no stutter stepping or head faking,

no flipping it back and forth

between you and him, no racing

across the court, a pass floating

in the air, catching you in stride

as you rise with the memory

of your first taste of schoolyard

grace and lay it softly against

the backboard so the ball settles

in the net’s momentary embrace.

Basketball with Jesse means

taking turns for a certain number

of shots. You negotiate, he agrees

reluctantly to 10. You haven’t touched

any kind of ball in 7 years: kidney

disease, open heart surgery, hernia

strangulation, dialysis, and finally

the kidney transplant. You run

out of breath trotting a half block

to catch your morning bus, cling

to a pole as it drives, afraid

you’ll fall across the aisle

as it turns onto the service

road. You walk slowly, watch

where your feet land. You stand

at the foul line. Jesse’s a step

and a half in front of you.

He shoots first with a stiff, over

the head, Jack Sikma-like release

that banks in. You’re next, still

trying to imitate Earl The Pearl

of the long gone Baltimore Bullets.

He counts the shots down, only

smiles when he gets to shout

10 so he can go home, sit

at the table, cross basketball

off his list, move on to McKee’s:

apple juice with ice, chicken 

fingers, French fries, extra hot.

Jesse’s 10 for 10. You’re 1 for 10

with an air ball. He doesn’t care.

You have to tell yourself not to.

Tony Gloeegler is a life-long resident of New York City and has managed group homes for the mentally challenged in Brooklyn for over 35 years. His work has appeared in Rattle, Poet Lore, Chiron Review, New Ohio Review, Spillway, Nerve Cowboy and Juked. His full length books include One Wish Left (Pavement Saw Press 2002), The Last Lie and Until The Last Light Leaves (NYQ Books 2015). My next book will be published by NYQ Books in 2019