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