V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





American expats.  Iraqi men.  Two played
for Purdue and Tennessee, others play
for Iraqi club teams sponsored by companies—
Al Kahraba Electricity—or by regional

militias, like the Kurdish team—
the Peshmerga Club. The Iraqi Basketball
Association does not thrive: players earn
a few hundred bucks each month,

play on unwaxed, hardwood floors.
Still, though, not pickup games, almost
professional ball, club ball, fifteen teams,
maybe a dozen fans for each game.


Around them, people die, Iraqis, Americans,
innocent men, women and children walking
in the wrong place, at outdoor markets.  The thudding
sound of basketballs on dusty streets contend

with IEDs and the rumble of tanks and HumVees.
In a country where roundball runs second
to footbol, where soccer players contend
with other countries.  They fight for an audience,

struggle one-on-one against kidnapping,
assassination, fight for personal identity.
In a game meant for teams…there are teams,
but each player struggles with his own war.


A peaceful game. Electricity powers the game
if not the neighborhood.  Josh and Marcus,
not names we associate with Arab culture,
take shots at a real hoop with a real net while

across the fence American soldiers dribble
balls on packed soil, their eyes scanning
the passersby.  No one dunks, no one has
the size, the springboard legs, the ability

to soar above the dim lights of the green zone,
but they dribble, set picks, shoot threes.
The very best compete in the Premier League,
play seventy-five games in ten hot months.


The league takes contributions
to pay the ransom for players taken
by local gangs, each player contributes.
The league contributes.  They have dreams,

not of the NBA, not of the European League,
but just dribbling down polished courts,
playing each other for fun and a few bucks,
not having to look over their shoulders,

for armed men in the crowded streets.
The few fans push through the crowds.
“Iraqi people love basketball,” says Ahmed
Raad, a Shurta fan, “We have for years.”

© by H. Palmer Hall


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