A Striker Fires Wide
A Striker Fires Wide
With the lid of the cup as a cap.
On my teammates’ shoulders
like an open-topped carriage,
with both camps singing
linking banners like bunting
and with the stadium like a station
announcing my arrival
to a civic reception
of the tea-time viewing public:
yes, I would have ridden that train.
Glory. Pushed wide
by the laces of my boots.
four cool steps and then nothing,
the ball, its logo, its trademark and stitching
trundling off into the goalmouth’s sidings,
past the post and past the netting
past a terrace of photographers
the ball at rest
beside the buffer of the hoardings.
And the crowd. Punctured
by the final whistle.
I’ve forgotten what I was going to say.
Ah, yes: the boy can do
what the man cannot.
Something like that.
Even if and when the ball runs true
then to lift my kicking foot,
to swing, to follow through
is to risk ridicule.
What if the turf breaks up
with a longer stud.
What if a defender passes through
my standing foot.
What if written through the way
my weight redistributes.
I was worth my weight in newsprint,
the glowing tribute to a golden generation.
I would leap, sure
the earth would rise to meet me
and land me safely, securely,
They called up the wildest hyperbole
of shipping and aviation
to explain my movements
and their fascination.
My shirt was a sail strung
on the rigging of my chest.
I used the gravity of each victory
to sling me toward my next trajectory,
my next trophy.
I was a tax on poor defending.
Salesmen studied my feint and dummy.
I would switch across a speeding ball
like a circus horseman
impressing his girl.
Loops, radii, parabola, pi:
my through ball was geometry.
I expressed myself trigonometrically.
The ball stood accused.
I was the one to answer to.
Now the ground does not run true.
Stones rip my knees apart.
The earth refuses to cushion my fall.
Even my hair follows its own course.
It affects me.
It pulls my shirt chasing long balls
and bobbles the ball as I shoot.
I’m left a yard short
susceptible to injury gasping for breath
on the touchline with a dead-leg
as they bring me off again.
Each night I defeat myself.
The penalty. Relived, re-run, retaken.
From the dug-out.
From the terrace. The concession’s stand.
The director’s box.
From the TV station with the rights
to the footage long since bought.
From the vantage point of my own head.
I send the keeper the wrong way
and still it comes to naught.
I imagine a man in the highest stand, laughing.
I see a kid with his father, distraught.
Children: be selfish.
Be greedy. Takes chances.
Do the unexpected.
Give the keeper the eyes
and force him to get dirty.
Perform the dance you choreographed
in the nation’s living room
with the corner flag as your partner
and cheering as your tune.
Know you’re worth it.
Fill your boots.
But do not know yourself.
It’s no use.