Guest Poem: "They send the boys to Houston" by Michael Gossett

USA TODAY Sports

A poem for the occasion of Zach Randolph's appearance in the 2013 NBA All Star Game.

They send the boys to Houston
—50 lines for no. 50: Zach Randolph—

having plucked most of them
from where you might expect,
the large-market programs
in or near Boston, New York, L.A.,
the best in the biz, ahead of the game,
doing what we back home can only dream of doing

—and I’m halfway through this sentence
when the words Celtics, Knicks, Lakers
begin to yield to other ones:
M.I.T., Columbia, Cal Tech;
All-Stars becoming (say) among the stars,
athletes becoming astronauts.

And the boys that we watch this weekend,
Kobe, LeBron, Durant, Carmelo,
that they come to us from out of a tunnel
carved into the Toyota Center stands
suddenly seems to be a harkening-back
to Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong,
walking out of a different tunnel in Houston
in bright uniforms of their own.

On. T.V., Zach Randolph laces his shoes
and then stands up to adjust his headband
—and I don’t know if it’s the gossamer
of his one-night-only red jersey
or the slightly unconventional roundness
of his seemingly unathletic body,
but he seems in this moment
to be of the same approximate size,
seems to possess the same approximate dimensions
of a full-suited astronaut in space.

When the camera pans out and over
to the boys in the lackadaisical lay-up line,
Zach shows the same approximate foot speed
and, yes, even the same approximate leaping ability
of Neil Armstong taking those slow steps
in the black and white documentary footage
we all saw in our history classes
if not in our very own homes,

and, as a Memphis-born basketball enthusiast,
the whole experience of seeing my hometown
emblazoned across the slight curvature
of Z-Bo’s full-bodied chest is so otherworldly
that I wonder if the folks of Wapakoneta, OH
(i.e. Neil Armstrong’s birthplace),
especially the kids shooting hoops in the yard
with Apollo 11 in orbit all those years ago,
might not have looked up into the spread-out sky above them
and, from time to time, felt just as remarkably close
to someone so far away, doing such important work
for everyone else in their small-market town.

Michael Gossett is pursuing his MFA in poetry at the University of Maryland, though he considers himself a lifelong Memphis native and friend. He writes about basketball, video games, and basketball video games, and can be found on Twitter at @michaeljgossett. His work has previously appeared in ONSQU/Washington Square Review, The Country Dog Review, and Glass.

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