Poetry in Motion

I don’t remember the name of my seventh grade assistant basketball coach, just that I dubbed him “Navy Guy” for his tendency to wear Midshipmen paraphernalia under any circumstance.  Navy Guy was old—skin-saggingly old—and seemingly apparated to practice from the set of Hoosiers.  His primary contribution to the team was a post-practice box of off-brand snack cakes; after two weeks, we realized that the cakes were always expired, yet this intelligence only deterred me from eating them.  Sometime before our first regular season game, Navy Guy called a team meeting to announce his imminent leave of absence/retirement, a consequence of the team’s schedule conflicting with his obligations as a cantor.  Justifiable tears streamed down our cheeks as we contemplated the loss of a living, breathing coughing monument to the days of white guys in short shorts shooting at peach baskets.  Navy Guy’s farewell offering was a printed-out newspaper profile of college basketball’s player du jour, J.J. Redick.  For a time, that article meant everything to me.

On Sunday evening, I watched the Magic trounce the Cavs, 100-84.  Redick, the Magic’s starting 2-guard, had a particularly J.J. Redickish stat line: 2 rebounds, 4 assists, and 13 points.  At my present Cavs-viewing state, I generally either fantasize about Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the lineup or attempt to define what, exactly, constitutes Lesanity.  For this game, however, my personal meditations veered towards abstraction—there I sat, transfixed on Redick.  Soon, my thoughts drifted to Navy Guy and his stale pastries.  I wondered how he was adjusting to the rigors of life as a cantor and what he’d wanted us to glean from the Redick profile.  My stapled copy of the article was at home collecting dust and several Google searches were woefully ineffective, so I didn’t have the chance to peruse it before writing this.  Nevertheless, I vaguely recalled a sentence or two detailing Redick’s foray into poetry.  Intriguing!  This sealed it for me— I would embark on a mission to better appreciate the collected works of Jonathan Clay (J.J.??) Redick.

A sampling from Redick’s portfolio:

As I decide to fulfill my life’s strategy

The devil insists on trying to battle me

I meet him in an empty field on the high plains

He throws temptations my way to inflict internal pain

Life and death matters, this ain’t no game

He believes I’ll submit to the evil of society’s frame

And benefit from notoriety’s gain

He says I don’t have to properly train

and that he’ll give me all the fame

and everyone will know my name

But I think he’s insane

The temptation-tossing devil obviously serves as a veiled representation of a North Carolina basketball player, but who?  A glance at the 2004-2005 Tar Heels roster (this poem was written in 2004) reveals two plausible candidates: Sean May and Raymond Felton (I cannot disclose how this conclusion was made.)  I believe I speak for everyone when I say that I’d gladly pay a staggering amount of cash to watch Redick engage in hand-to-hand combat with either of these individuals “in an empty field on the high plains.”  When Redick, a cunning artist, resorts to the humanizing, slang-laced insult “this ain’t no game,” he’s consciously endearing himself to readers; a rather wise decision considering the nation’s vitriol for Duke.  And suddenly we know—to use his parlance—he ain’t playing around.  This devil is gonna go down!  “But I think he’s insane” is a cryptic line, and potentially a reference to future UNC foe Tyler Hansbrough, who self-identifies as “Psycho T”.  The plot thickens…

No bandage can cover my scars

It’s hard living a life behind invisible bars

Searching for the face of God

I’m only inspired by the poems of Nas

The poem goes on, but I don’t really care for the rest of it.  No bandage can cover your scars?  You must have some really big scars!  Redick, again, flaunts his ability to predict the future as he gripes about life in a figurative prison cell.  Could he be referring to the eventual DUI that would come to tarnish his good boy reputation?  Perhaps.  One must question how Redick using only “the poems of Nas” to find God’s face.  I have a hard time utilizing Nas to locate Carmen Sandiego, let alone Christ.  Also, it’s important to note that Redick regards Nas to be a poet (as opposed to a rapper/musician) in the same way he is.  Related: Is J.J. a more distinguished baller or poet?  If it’s the latter, what does that say about Delonte West’s budding rap career?

It’s difficult to fathom the coming of the rapture

What if I awoke in an empty pasture?

I included this passage for two reasons:

  1. The rapture wasn’t a thing until last spring, but Redick was musing on it as early as September 5, 2004.  This guy has to have a crystal ball or something.
  2. How hilarious would it be if a groggy Redick awoke one morning in an empty pasture?

As I write this, North Carolina State sophomore forward C.J. Leslie is deliberating whether or not to enter the NBA Draft.  Because Leslie moonlights as a poet, this news simultaneously depresses and excites me.  Leslie harbors literary aspirations, so it’s disheartening to see society pigeonhole him into a basketball career when it’s clear he’d rather be Langston Hughes than Larry Hughes.  Not all is lost, though.  If Leslie continues to write in Dickenson level subterfuge, a posthumous anthology of his work will certainly surface.  This is the only known poem of Leslie’s to have been released publicly, entitled “She Finally Came”:

she was hesitant…

about the lack of time we spent.

she said, “i barely know you,

and

i’m kinda sick.”

i said

“calm down

… only as friends.”

i waited it out,

and tried it again.

this time only to find out

that we had work til 10!

DAYUM

where did I go wrong?

just tryna find a beneficial friend…

i’m starting to think these excuses

are

other men…

the next time she cancelled,

it was for an emergency.

man

this chick is really avoiding me…

then i got a text.

“sex.”

YES.

she finally came.

over

and over, and over, and over….

DAYUM!

And who could fault a kid for simply tryna find a beneficial friend?  Leslie, in his iconoclastic verse, writes with the flair of Kim Addonizio; it’s bewildering that only one piece of his has been unearthed.  Our culture needs more risk-takers like Leslie, who arouses memories of Robin Williams’s character in Dead Poets Society, an avowed endorser of the carpe diem mentality; and honestly, I need to embrace the live-life-to-the-fullest philosophy as much as anyone.  For all I know, I could wake up tomorrow in an empty pasture left only with off-brand snack cakes.

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