Thursday, June 3, 2010

On the Eve of Five World Cups


Algeria, England, and Slovenia—
add us to that trio: unlikely quartet

yet likely because that’s the way
it happens: near-chance, like unlikely borders

drawn by geo-human hands,
or naturally following a mountain’s edge

or river bed, and in bright colors, too,
crayons that melt and fill the cloths

that become the flags, flappings that fray,
ropes that clang, meaninglessness

that means so much, reds that run into blues,
greens into reds, and white, background noise

of peace and purity that few will ever hear in the greed
for position, gold, and the diamonds of a mine.

Of the four flags, only St. George is without stars,
and we will meet at altitude, at Rustenburg.

Perhaps the English know just how to breathe
at any height. Well, we shall see.

And we shall dare from where we sit,
dare to watch for who on earth and in this light

of Africa has inner voice that pulls him
in the run toward heaven’s scarcest air.


The taste of Empire fades: it always does
at times like this—hiatus we’ve been waiting for,
like spargel season.

Czechs, Italians, and Ghanaians
will meet our men in first-round whorls
of spirit, laughter, and a hint of edge.

Walking through the tunnel—
connector of protected space
to the shadow of the pitch’s sky—

they’ll take their place for the coin toss,
hemispheres inside amphitheatres, where
either-or is heads-or-tails, two halves

that form the whole, like cheeks on either side
of language wearing painted heraldry.
And if our men are lucky, they’ll get a point,

a soft and perfect touch over disparate heads,
a subtle drop into the corner of the Black Star net—
but otherwise we’ll take our losses,

and asparagus as white as shooting stars
will speed across a single heaven,
almost but not quite too fast for the human eye.


They are sleeping now, the sun
with us at this hour of its circle,
spreading over us and our curved periphery.

A mourning dove, ubiquitous wing,
carries us wherever we have been before,
unseen movements east and west

still just below our eyelids in the place
of reminders that hears a voice,
a song, a glee, almost to a roar

like the Azteca hum, a ricochet from bleachers
that will reach tomorrow into the men
of Portugal, Poland, our own,

whose nocturnal movements,
restive somnolent breathings under a Korean sky
wild with the sound of bravery and accord,

are remembered by a globe in abeyance
as if already painted on the contours of a vase
and found beneath the layers.

Are there other universes?
—John Hersey, “Time’s Winged Chariot”

Universes blend
like green and azure carpet threads,
this summer of our thirty-two,
universe of universes
for a month.

Glaciers over Chamonix
do their ancient easy slide,
while acrobats and sprinters, Germans some,
Iranians, keepers at the gate are ready
under lamps that light the road we’re on
almost by mistake.

We’ll learn a word of Farsi,
hello at least, good bye if we are lucky.
Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia
universes knotted into one— will they know
their constellations on the field? What language
do they speak?

This is entity out of fire out of
aging out of birthing out of weaving out of
grass out of desert out of oceans flown over,
and you and I are looking for our place
in the stadium.


We’re your mothers,
fathers, too,
sisters, uncles, brothers,
aunts who tied your shoes.
We counted out your infant toes,
made sure that you were breathing,
kickin’ balls on Saturdays,
Sundays, we were leaving
family tables never set,
saying grace in parking lots,
one eye on the net,
thankful for your health and strength,
that took you down the white-lined length,
and legs that made assists,
and sometimes missed.

We put your picture on the fridge
amid the rave reviews, and not so rave.
“Break a leg,” we’d say,
as if your passes, headers, saves
were an actor’s mime on stage.

The field, wherever it may be,
waits for you the worker,
and on the greening turf you run,
beneath the sky, a silver dome,
and say, the way you did to us back then,
“Hi, guys, I’m home.”

Published in the Detroit Free Press the morning of first U.S. game (v Switzerland), Pontiac Silverdome, June 18, 1994