Sean Thomas Dougherty
Portrait of Lebron as Ohio
When is a poem one word? Even at 17 he was Baraka
on the court, Coltrane gold toned, a kind of running riff,
more than boy-child, man-child, he was one word like Prince.
How back in those drunken days when I still
ran in bars & played schoolyard ball
& wagered fives & tens, me & my colleague
the psych-prof drove across Eastern Ohio
just to see this kid from powerhouse St. Vincent,
grown out of rust-belt-bent-rims, tripped
with the hype & hope & hip hop
blaring from his headphones, all rubber soled
& grit as the city which birthed him.
We watched him rise that night scoring over 35,
drove back across the quiet cut cornfields
& small towns of Ohio, back to the places
where we slept knowing that Jesus had been reborn, black
& beautiful with a sweatband crown rimming his brow.
He was so much more than flipping burgers & fries,
more than 12 hour shifts at the steel plant in Cleveland.
More than the shut down mill in Youngstown.
More than that kid selling meth in Ashtabula.
He was every kid, every street, every silo, he was white
& black & brown & migrant kids working farms.
He was the prince of stutterstep & pause. He was the new
King. We knew he was coming back the day after he left
his house in Bath Township. He never sold it.
Someone fed his fish for years. Perhaps our hope? Fuck Miami.
Leave Wade to wade through the Hurricane rain. Lebron is
remembering that woman washing the linoleum floor, that man
punching his punch card. He drives a Camaro, the cool kid
Ohio car driving through any Main Street. He is the toll taker, &
he is the ticket out. To weave these ropes of hair my
woman said years later in Cleveland Heights watching him gone.|
He finally got that ring & she turned to me & said, now he
comes home. He keeps index cards documenting
his opponent’s moves. One leans forward before he drives.
One always swipes with his left hand. The details like a preacher
studying the gospel. He studies the game like a
mathematician conjugating equations, but when he moves he is a
a conductor passing the ball like a baton. He is a burst of cinders
at the mill. He is a chorus of children calling his name.
The blistered hands of a man stacking boxes
in Sandusky, the long wait for work in Lorain.
A sapling bends
& reaches in all directions
before it becomes a tree. A ball is a key to a lock.
A ball is the opposite of Glock.
America who sings your praises,
while tying the rope, everyone waiting for Caesar to fall,
back-stabbing media hype city betrayed
by white people with racist signs.
I watch the kids play ball
in the Heights, witness this they say. We will rise. I watched
Lebron arrive & leave, I walked, I gave up drinking
as he went off & won a ring. The children’s chorus calls out sing
brother, sing. Everything is black. Storm clouds gather out
on Lake Erie. But the old flower-hatted women
at the Baptist church are handing out praise cards,
registering teenagers to vote. To turn a few words into a sentence.
He is a glossary of jam. & yes he is corporate
chugging down green bubbly Sprite, running in Sony head-
phones, he is Dunkin his donut, he is Nike, witness, ripped.
On a spring day in Akron a
chorus of children is chanting his name on the court by the
chain-link fence. He is forged steel, turning his skinny body into
muscle, years of nights lifting, chiseling, cutting, studying.
Watching the tape. To make a new kind of sentence. He is passing
out T-shirts, this long hot bloody summer he was returned
to the rusted rim along the big lake. He is stutter-step. He is
spinning wheel. He has a cool new hat. He is speaking of
dead black children. He is giving his time. To make the crowd
sway like wind through a field of corn.
Does Lebron think of dying?
Does the grape think of dying as it withers on the vine by
the lake? Or does it dream of the wine it will become?
He is wearing a shirt that says I Can’t Breathe.
They said he was arrogant. I said he was just Ohio.
He married his high school sweetheart. Bravado laid out
on the court. No back down, he is Biggie with a basketball inside
of a mic, no ballistics, just ballet. He is Miles Davis cool,
quietly cerebral, turning his back, tossing up
chalk like blue smoke, blue notes, blues. He is Akron,
Columbus, he is heart & Heat turned to lake effect blizzards,
freighters frozen in ice, looking for work & no money to
eat. He is Ashtabula & Toledo. He is carrying so many across the
river, up through Marietta.
The grapevines are ripe in Geneva.
He returns, Man-child, Man-strong, Man-smart, Man-
mountain, Mansfield to East Akron, minus into Man, or should we
say Mamma raised? Single mother fed, shy child, quiet
child, who grew, who suffered & taught his body to sing, his
mother worked how many shifts, doing this, doing that,
sixteen never gave up for her son. He is third shift at the rubber
plant in winter, he is farm hands & auto parts piece work
& long nights the men at the bar, eyes on the television.
The lake tonight is black as newly laid asphalt.
There are no ellipses. He is turning paragraphs
into chapters. Long ago the hoop gods made this deal
at the crossroads, Old Scratch is flipping the pages
of his program & waiting high in the stands—to belong to a
place most people would call
nowhere, to show the world how tough we truly are, twelve
hour shifts at the rubber plant in Akron. How he is, how
he is a part of this asphalt court we call Ohio, & how we
suffer, & how we shine.
Sean Thomas Dougherty is the author or editor of thirteen books including All You Ask for Is Longing: Poems 1994- 2014 (2014 BOA Editions). Recent poems in North American Review and Best American Poetry 2014. His website is seanthomasdoughertypoet.com. He works in a pool hall in Erie, Pennsylvania.