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    Copyright © 2014 unruly

    A poem I think you should read (3)

    Defending Walt Whitman
    By Sherman Alexie


    Basketball is like this for young Indian boys, all arms and legs
    and serious stomach muscles. Every body is brown!
    These are the twentieth-century warriors who will never kill,
    although a few sat quietly in the deserts of Kuwait,
    waiting for orders to do something, to do something.
    God, there is nothing as beautiful as a jumpshot

    on a reservation summer basketball court
    where the ball is moist with sweat,
    and makes a sound when it swishes through the net
    that causes Walt Whitman to weep because it is so perfect.
    There are veterans of foreign wars here
    although their bodies are still dominated

    by collarbones and knees, although their bodies still respond
    in the ways that bodies are supposed to respond when we are young.
    Every body is brown! Look there, that boy can run
    up and down this court forever. He can leap for a rebound
    with his back arched like a salmon, all meat and bone
    synchronized, magnetic, as if the court were a river,
    as if the rim were a dam, as if the air were a ladder
    leading the Indian boy toward home.

    Some of the Indian boys still wear their military hair cuts
    while a few have let their hair grow back.
    It will never be the same as it was before!
    One Indian boy has never cut his hair, not once, and he braids it
    into wild patterns that do not measure anything.
    He is just a boy with too much time on his hands.
    Look at him. He wants to play this game in bare feet.

    God, the sun is so bright! There is no place like this.
    Walt Whitman stretches his calf muscles
    on the sidelines. He has the next game.
    His huge beard is ridiculous on the reservation.
    Some body throws a crazy pass and Walt Whitman catches it
    with quick hands. He brings the ball close to his nose
    and breathes in all of its smells: leather, brown skin, sweat,
    black hair, burning oil, twisted ankle, long drink of warm water,
    gunpowder, pine tree. Walt Whitman squeezes the ball tightly.
    He wants to run. He hardly has the patience to wait for his turn.
    “What’s the score?” he asks. He asks, “What’s the score?”

    Basketball is like this for Walt Whitman. He watches these Indian boys
    as if they were the last bodies on earth. Every body is brown!
    Walt Whitman shakes because he believes in God.
    Walt Whitman dreams of the Indian boy who will defend him,
    trapping him in the corner, all flailing arms and legs
    and legendary stomach muscles. Walt Whitman shakes
    because he believes in God. Walt Whitman dreams
    of the first jumpshot he will take, the ball arcing clumsily
    from his fingers, striking the rim so hard that it sparks.
    Walt Whitman shakes because he believes in God.
    Walt Whitman closes his eyes. He is a small man and his beard
    is ludicrous on the reservation, absolutely insane.
    His beard makes the Indian boys righteously laugh. His beard
    frightens the smallest Indian boys. His beard tickles the skin
    of the Indian boys who dribble past him. His beard, his beard!

    God, there is beauty in every body. Walt Whitman stands
    at center court while the Indian boys run from basket to basket.
    Walt Whitman cannot tell the difference between
    offense and defense. He does not care if he touches the ball.
    Half of the Indian boys wear t-shirts damp with sweat
    and the other half are bareback, skin slick and shiny.
    There is no place like this. Walt Whitman smiles.
    Walt Whitman shakes. This game belongs to him.

    Pine Ridge Reservation, SD, via aaronhuey
    Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota
    Photo by Aaron Huey, via aaronhuey.com
    Pine Ridge Reservation, SD, via aaronhey.com
    Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota
    Photo by Aaron Huey, via aaronhuey.com
    Regulators from Pine Ridge in South Dakota
    Regulators basketball team, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota
    Photo by Carmen Renee Thompson, via sports.espn.go.com
    Court-Monument-Valley-Navajo-Tribal-Park
    Court, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, via Hoopedia
    2 Comments

    Beautiful, Katy, thanks!

    Scriobh added these words on Oct 20 09 at 3:49 am

    I’m weeping. I shake because I believe in God. My body is brown. Thank you Uncle. Your efforts are not forgotten. Still weeping, there’s no place like this. That really moved me. Thank you unruly and thank you Sherman Alexie.

    (Walt’s brother married a Mi’kmaq girl the Whitmans had adopted into their home and is my ancestor.)

    Annette Shaffer added these words on Oct 05 10 at 8:18 pm



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