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JOSE HERNANDEZ DIAZ | Elegy for a Basketball Court from My Youth

When I was a boy, twenty, thirty years ago,

I wanted to be a professional basketball player.

I was pretty good, I played with the neighborhood kids

From the apartments, they were all older than me,

But I had a street-style of play, as opposed to the gym style

Which is prominent in high schools, even to this day.

I was good at throwing behind-the-back passes

And dribbling behind my back, but I lacked basic

Fundamentals like dribbling well with the left hand, or having

A consistent outside shot, which for a point-guard is crucial.

I did have good defense. I could guard guys twice my size

When they would post me up. I always led the game in steals.

But, when I eventually made it to high school, the coach

Told me to focus on football, where I was a starter.

The last time I shot the basketball at my neighborhood park,

With my friends, was the day before my brothers got

Into a gang rumble at the same park. Luckily, everyone survived,

But I’m told there were multiple weapons. I was the one who’d called

The police. After football practice, when my friend’s mom

Picked us up, I told her the rumor was my brothers

And their friends were going to rumble, with weapons,

At the park behind our apartments. So, I called the police.

Long story short, we drove by the park, later, to check it out,

My friend’s step-dad was a former convict who had ran

With gangs in his younger days, he told us not to worry.

Well, when we finally got there, all we found was our family car:

Busted up and tagged over, windows shattered. I never went back

To that park anymore. It wasn’t safe, anymore. Even if one day

It would be safe again, like today, for example. It’s already too late.

The damage is done. Basketball, but a mere memory of youth.


Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow. He is the author of a collection of prose poems: The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press, 2020). His work appears in The American Poetry Review, Bennington Review, Cincinnati Review, Georgia Review, Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, The Missouri Review, The Nation, Poetry, Southeast Review, and in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011.


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