The men in B.H. Fairchild's Old Men Playing Basketball don't strike me as veterans of the NCAA tournament. Certainly they've watched many of the classic match ups and plays, just not from a bench location or on-court vista; no, they've been in the comfort of a bar, their own couch, or possibly in the cheap seats at the top of the stadium. Still, they carry the same respect for the game of basketball that makes March Madness a yearly phenomenon. The game of basketball, at a certain point, exposes all of our flaws, wrinkles, and inequities. Most short guys will never know the surge of power that comes with dunking a ball. Most old guys will never again feel the curtain of bravado drape over them after a reverse, 360 layup. And most former players will continue to carry an image in their brain of what they were, not what they have become. This is the point that B.H. Fairchild illustrates in his wonderful poem.
Even if the game exposes who we are, when all we want to is return to being who we were, there is still a familiar beauty in revisiting the past in our present forms. "In love / again with the pure geometry of curves," these men recover some part of themselves in the movements and mannerisms of their youth. They may be "heavy bodies" now only capable of "the grind of bone and socket," but the nostalgia soaks over them and stirringly permeates the current versions of themselves. Fairchild wonders if they still make love to their wives with the same artistic and majestic moves of their youth, if they still sing their silly songs on the walk home, if they are still equipped with the aura of opportunity and possibility when they cuddled with their girls "in the Chevy's front seat" under the "light of the outdoor movie." The moments of our past are never lost, as long as we have triggers that breathe life into them in our present. For many men and women, basketball is one of those triggers. It will be a lifelong trigger for all those March heroes on TV over the next few weeks. It is a lifelong trigger for Danny Ainge, Tyus Edny, Christian Laettner, and all the fans who cheered and cried as they had their game winning turns. It is a lifelong trigger for the Butlers, George Masons, and VCUs of the world, as much as it is for the Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky. Why is basketball a trigger that sparks the feelings and skills of the past into our present selves? I'm not exactly sure, but I think it has something to do with the magic of nostalgia. Magic might be the key word. Look no further than the final stanza of Fairchild's poem and you'll find magic: "A glass wand / of autumn light breaks over the backboard. / Boys rise up in old men, wings begin to sprout / at their backs. The ball turns in the darkening air." Here's to boys rising up in old men, here's to girls rising up in old women, here's to basketball.
Old Men Playing Basketball
By B.H. Fairchild