Service and Set
One of my first loves is playing tennis.
On my list is helping old people cross intersections
or packing wheel chairs for invalids into car trunks;
I love garlic cloves—straight, and kippers and fried brown eggs
and rough green spring onions that have a life of their own.
My eyes water and burn but on the court that is par.
Is tennis a cult? I mean I play on a red brick court, my service is weak
I am in the company of every Tom, Roddick and Harry who also play.
I've won no trophies and my wooden shelves are bare.
There is a certificate saying, he always helps out with weak players.
I watch the champions in Gstaad and I pay for hard wooden seats
high up in the stands that claw the skies. Seats sitting like cranes
about to fly away to Forest Hills. A long time ago,
at that time, every shot driven across the orange-rust surface
of the championship court drew applause from a sole spectator,
who waved frantically, smiled and pointed a flash mirror
at my backhand. The only reflections I remember are those
in the windows of Macy's building in New York,
or in the men's toilet at Saks. Above the court that day,
the sky remained a burning blue uranium rod
and my main worry to perfect my grip
like Laver and Emerson who in the heydays
of low payments, wooden racquets, white balls and the odd black ball carrier
who earns his living by washing balls after every tournament, toiled hard.
Nothing much worried me in the fifties; only that grip or using
a brown gut string or transparent plastic twine.
Perhaps control my red knuckles and cool my hot face
or use a pressure gauge on my elbow
to test velocities and measure them against Tsunamis
or the ash emanating from Mt Vesuvius logging in the ruins at Pompeii,
for Roman Nero balls, green kelp, rotten fish and restrung stalks.
I saw a luminous shadow—the one applauder in blue shirt
and orange striped scarf studying my every stroke,
and I don't play that well. I remember this vociferous and loyal fan,
splitting his legs in long white meltonian deep creased, well pressed trousers
and the dry cleaners nearby long last closed for repairs.
My service remained consistent and my progress roused sleeping dogs.
Every breed in the pound will have a day off
and extra bones bonus between advert times.
The inspectors are now roving Fifty-Seventh Street looking for doubles.
A few adolescent girls with small racquets,
pig tails and big pencils cried for autographs;
I refrained and instead hired benches
in Grand Central Station to rest my legs. A good shot again
and the exchange of smiles. On that day in hot August
the Cripple Care Association brought twenty-six boys
and that boy along who smiled down at me.
I gestured for him to join. He hobbled down the narrow concrete stairs
losing balance several times. Have you a racquet? I said.
You going to play with me, Sir? I noticed a metal brace
from his leg reflecting in morse code. We'll hit a few then, I said.
His eyes looked into my pungent tearful eyes smarting
from the acrid burning smell of yellow balls. A tear ran down his cheeks
as he hungrily ripped the racquet I thrust into his hands.
Let's go. He hesitated, held a yellow brooding Wilson number four ball
to his chest and said, Do you mind if I serve underhand?