Before poet, I was athlete

I’ve been concerned about a few questions since last summer.

Before a poet, I was an athlete. With sports, namely soccer, came a relentless expectation to be unfeeling, disciplined, and physical. As I write this, I’m reminded that both sports and poetry call on the body and mind in similar ways. I’m grappling now in a new poem–featured in pieces throughout this essay–how my early identity of athlete and my transformation into poet both collide, supplement, and capture the questions I have about my father, masculinity, and violence.

Where is the boundary of sexual and physical violence in macho father-son backyard exhibition games, or any sports games really? Why do sports interpret physicality differently than in other spaces? Is it possible to speak about heteropatriarchy in sports and family and ignore homoeroticism in sports and family?

pavement back back, shoe shuffles sweatcocks, three

ball slap concrete, three

ball slap concrete, three

lock lip, two

mishit, two

rub, rub, rub, rubs

one

I traveled California as a kid and young teen with my soccer club. Weekends were devoted to tournaments and league games. Early mornings called on my father and I to take long drives under black sky and chapped-cut cold. The week surrendered to practices. Weekday homework and focus–call me abysmal. I performed the same for my high school soccer team. I often dreamt of being a professional soccer player, though, at one point an athlete must come to face with the reality that not much else can exist outside of practice and games. I left competitive soccer all together after I graduated high school. However, the unfeeling, discipline, and physicality are still there, now taking shape in my language.

brittle boned, three

elbow cocked back, two

elbow flingsmack, three

jam nick his eye, two

pins my body hard-on

one

Poetry calls on me to study hard the work of others. Read. It’s competition with time whether I like it or not. I only cheat myself if I don’t–a motto a coach hammered into my head weekly. Poetry calls on me to think of the world in 360 degrees. In soccer, I was the center midfielder, and in control of the tempo of the game, moreover, the joints of the team. Poetry also calls on me to be disciplined in my practice of the basics–repetition no matter how masterful I get.

pops: for every action, refraction, I nod

stutter step, I nod

stutter step, I nod

stutter step, I nod

swish three

catch kneecock

My father was my ultimate coach. In his push to get me to be better, my confidence was shot. I never responded to aggressive body language, angry tones, and shaming. Each game felt more like a performance for him, more so than me doing my thing for the love of the game. Coaching styles are very much informed by external forces as much as internal forces. Consider who they call mentors. Consider, too, a heteropatriarchical force of masculinity checking their every move.

However, now I’m returning that gut check because I can no longer hold it in. I’m doing it in ways that center the push and pull memories of my father and I. It’s what poets and athletes alike do–relive, reimagine, improve.

brittle boned, elbow cocked back, elbow flingsmack, jam eye

brittle boned, elbow cocked back, elbow flingsmack, jam eye

brittle boned, elbow cocked back, elbow flingsmack, jam eye

pavement black black, shoe shuffle sweatsock, all before I     

hit back

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