Michael Jordan, in general

(previously published in Columbia Journal in a slightly different form)

Sometimes Phil Jackson looks at his bulls, and they are on national television, wearing new nike sneakers, running the floor in an instinctual trance. The ball is a pet; the basket a bed. The two nets sense each other from across the court. The bulls keep on without breath. Their nikes are squeaking. The crowd is blushing. The heat of the whole entire room. The ball is traced by eyes; the clock ticks how it’s taught. This playoff series will never end. The shot clock is stopped; there are three balls on the court; the fouls are flagrant. The assistant coach is laughing. The players sweat, they sing, they poke each others eyes, they cry. They won't stop passing, muscling, free-throwing, threatening. The shot clock dies. The players are becoming stars, stuffing time in their socks. Their lettered last names, plus their numbers, plus their clean faces, all a clear truth for the camera. Phil Jackson watches life played out in quarters, his bulls the pullers of fantasy.

Basketball associations go beyond the NBA, the fondly remembered ABA, the occasionally mentioned CBA. Back in the late 1800's, basketball is invented before airplanes. There are no bras, no ballpoint pens, no movies. The game is born an animal. It likes being played; it’s nameless, spontaneous. Everyone likes it. Within a week it has an audience. Basket ball is free of connotations. There is no jazz to it. It’s white and neat and quick. It has no swaggering bad boys; it is for a time, heroless. Brooklyn and Philadelphia fall in love. Later comes the BAA, the SBL. The whole unreality of forgotten teams. The New Jersey Swamp Dragons, The Magic City Snowbears. High schoolers drew up the logos.

What happens in this long between? Blackened globs of chewing gum start to spot sidewalks. Men wear frock coats. The teddy bear appears. The windshield wiper. Cornflakes, Crossword puzzles. Wars and music. The slinky. Silly putty. The first credit card. Fat presidents and thin presidents. First kisses all around. Jokes, problems. JD Salinger writes Catcher in the Rye. Days, nights, people waiting for the telephone. People falling down stairs. People blowing their noses. Dick Dale tries out Leo Fender's new Stratocaster Electric Guitar and blows the amp into flames. The ballpoint pens, the underwire bras, dark dreamy movies. Triumphant jack hammering and pouring of cement at the end of driveways. The animals run to the woods. The woods get cut into pieces. The game HORSE. A girl's first period. Family pets fall ill. To celebrate the new pinball ban, New York Mayor Fiorello Henry LaGuardia smashes a number of machines in front a supportive crowd. America sits up neatly in its states. Someone keeps track of all the seals and flags, songs and birds. Young children can tell the difference between a Chevy and a Toyota just by the sounds outside their window. Basketball still building. Primary and secondary colors combine in every combination. Wax builds in small ears. The wind feels mean, but sometimes nice, depending on the weather and what is going on at the time. The sky is the background in back of everything. Cigarettes sit back smugly. Cats try and act sexy. Dogs eat garbage. Raccoons eat garbage. Skunks are very elusive. Deer are magical angels. Foxes are also elusive. Giraffes and elephants are locked up in fake areas meant to simulate the world. Baby chimpanzees are put in diapers. Monkeys are taught languages, given toys, made to watch videos. Pink and blue are chosen as the team colors for boys and girls. Mickey doesn't want to do his work and uses magic to make the broom do it for him, but he doesn't stop there! The Beatles eclipse Elvis and become the world's most popular musical artists. The Lakers are #1. Dads are #1. Everyone who played the first game of basket ball has died. Lucille Ball is dead. Buster Keaton is dead. Dogs are dead, foreign dictators are dead, authors are dead. Ants wander into the house and get lost in the bathroom floor tiles. John Casavettes makes some magic. Looney Tunes make magic too. Babies are born fat and naked. Plans dreamt up. Traditions grudgingly survive. The weather runs its cycles. TV Commercials use classic rock to sell products. Grandparents tell good stories. A Varsity coach makes his cuts. Boys carry home their basketballs, dejected. One grows all summer long. The game gathers watchers. Video cameras eat it up, spit it out. A part in the chest, below the heart, above the stomach, weasels around in sympathy and faith while ten point leads inflate it. The unfeeling buzzer stabs it. Adidas gets involved. Fila, NBC, TBS. Full court brawls. Big big names. Pale refs run insistently along side.

What rushes to all minds is Michael Jordan. 23, 23, 45, 23. Now that there has been Michael Jordan, we will never be without again. He smiles at us cleanly, with no moustache. He smoothes his head and we stare at his earring. "Michael," we say. He puts on deodorant, no earring, a faint moustache. "Michael," we awe, "Didn't it mean anything?" The ball spins on his finger like it’s glued. Time swallows a pause. "Everything," he smiles. He dunks in a leisure suit. He dunks in Hanes boxer briefs. He dunks in montage, from the right, from the left, in the Olympics, in college, with Bill Walton bellowing, with japanese sports casting, with instant replay, with frame-by-frame analysis, with sloppy digital pen circling his knees and tongue.

This is the version of him that has no future or past. No ex-wife or kids, no off-court life. He lives in the United Center. He doesn't fuss with food or water. There are whole months in the air, between the floor and the rim. This moment of quiet and loud gets stuck on repeat.

Michael Jordan shoots, swishes, but a lot of times he just stands, lit. An occasional swivel. Rotates like a figurine. Television size. He could dribble his basketball in the palm of your hand.

Michael Jordan leaps off the foul line in his famous all star dunk. This is more than just sneakers that pump up. Michael Jordan is The Sure Thing. The best fit protagonist. Even more though. Michael Jordan as visually understood, exact. A ladybug, a domino. Composition notebooks. Iconic as a beagle dog. Familiar as a landmark. A shared phenomenon. Ketchup on French fries. "The dog ate my homework." Something usual. Sleep at night. Popcorn at movies. Phil Jackson can't slow this roulette wheel. People plus life, plus time, plus ketchup on fries?

Mostly we have stopped whispering. The jerseys still hang like flags from old teenagers, but none of the babies understand. Some will take the time to sit in front of espn Classic Games and piece it back together. Once there was a guy who was so good. It always went in. He stuck his tongue out like this. He was so appealing. As long as Michael plus Jordan sits encoded in our minds, he'll still be shooting in an empty court. Video doesn't just die. It keeps relaying itself through outer space. It mixes up NASA's guys. Jordan can't remember anything. All he knows is the ball belongs in the basket. He dunks it, he hooks it, it wishes through the net, he takes it to three point land. He smiles. He pauses. He's making the nineties pretty. He's making them vivid and infinite. Each day attaches end to end, stretching to the moon in full moving color.

The Sad Girlfriend

(previously published in the second issue of [sic] journal)

She and her analyst spend the nicer part of an afternoon analyzing a hyphenated "l-o-v-e" stuck on the end of a letter. “Is it hyphenated for emphasis?”

“No, the dashes are sticks in the love. They cut up the word. They spread the love thin across the page. It is a weak love.”

“The hyphens are chains?”

“The hyphens are needles.”

“What if the hyphens are just playful. A nod to e e cummings. Maybe they are influenced by hip hop music?”

“They are needles.” A sigh escapes from the air-conditioner. “I am confident they are needles.”

Wednesdays are Beginners Class Yoga. She sits in her spot. During a pause she falls asleep. The others assume she is meditating. They try not to stare. They stretch. The sad girlfriend wakes to a start. She licks the drool at her cheek. “I was just meditating,” she explains loudly. The others nod.

“What did you see?” they whisper. “What did you find out?”

A portrait of a sad girlfriend can find shade in many silhouettes.

Trying to cry on the toilet. Struggling with the passenger-side

seatbelt. Scowling under the weight of an arm. Growing up, girls

ambition to be girlfriends. Birthday candles die for it.

“At first it was black, cause my eyes were closed. I could hear

you calling out downward dog, sun salutation, downward dog. I

saw numbers, and the numbers were in colors. Then I was in a

Starbucks, except everything was made of water. The floor was

shallow water, the walls were deep. There were different cups

and each one held inside it A Joke.” A murmur across the class.

“What kind of joke?” “Did you try the joke?” “Was I in your

meditation?” The yoga teacher silences them with a hand


Tim McWilliams eyes his girlfriend through his glasses. Sad

again? And over what? Strawberry ice-cream thrown in with the

chocolate and vanilla? Can’t a spoon spoon around it?

“Strawberry ice-cream tastes nothing like strawberries. It’s just

an unpleasant reminder.” Tim McWilliams has spent a fortune

on blockbuster new releases. Can’t the night recover in the

dark? The sad girlfriend shakes her head.

It can seem that nothing is happening. The clouds do their thing

over buildings. The commercials cue up at commercial breaks. A

story meanders slowly without any discernable plot. But behind

these blinds, a world is breathing breaths on top of breaths

already breathed. Brad Pitt is slowly falling out of love, and into

a new love. Matter into energy, energy into light.

The sad girlfriend paints her nails with polish. She decides to

change outfits before the polish has time to dry. It smudges. She

does not cry. She wipes the smudged nail on toilet paper and the

toilet paper sticks to the smudged nail. So, she uses nail polish

remover, which gets her high. Or it doesn’t get her high. Or it

does get her high. She checks gmail. She checks gmail. She

checks gmail.

“A Kim Basinger movie made my relationship look boring.” The

clock drags its minute hand constant and even.

“What first attracted you to Tim?” The analyst searches her hair

for split-ends.

The girlfriend waits for the subway pressing her metrocard to

her lips. She walks to the edge of the platform and peers down

the tunnel. Where are the bright eyes of the train? A couple

leans against the wall waiting, hugging out of boredom. The

train comes, everyone sits down; the train pulls out. Inside the

car, no one moves. The eyes of the passengers roam uneasily

over the advertisements, onto the other passengers, then quickly

to the lonely tunnel out the window with its repetitive graffiti

tags. “We were in a swimming pool and his eyelashes clung

together like tips of a crown. That was attractive to me.” The sad

girlfriend feels a feeling in her stomach. She sits very still. There

are no other girls in her car. She folds her arms across her

boobs. She makes an unattractive face. There is a big shit in my

stomach and it won’t come out my butt. The subway car halts to

a stop. The analyst floats into Starbucks, “Why do you think this

is?” I think it’s scared. The passengers keep their faces straight.

If the sad girlfriend lets her eyes linger too long on any one man,

the man might later log on to craigslist and post a missed

encounters entry. The sad girlfriend searches for a small child to

keep her faith in. During subway halts she finds it helpful to

focus her fear and hope into a small child. There are none in

sight. The lights cut out. The subway car waits in the anxious

dark. Probably, Terrorists have killed the subway driver. The

analyst pinches her fingers on the thin half-hairs of the split

end. It will either be gas that knocks everyone in comas, or

they’ll come in with knifes, bullets, flames. The terrorists keep

going after New York cause it’s a symbol. Washington has more

important people. California, more effective people. But New

York City is the big American pinball machine. Its skyline stands

like bottles in a row, waiting to be knocked down saloon-style.

There is no announcement from the subway driver. The analyst

pulls and sees how far up the split-end will split. The girlfriend

searches again for a child. In this year of early ’00s, anxiety is

indoors. It’s being surrounded by still objects, walls too white

and too smooth. Outside, the trees swish, the birds chatter, an

ant will crawl over your leg and include you; but inside you are

alone as dead. The only sound to accompany the air-conditioner

is the flutter and sigh of a dead plastic bag, the metallic whine of

a miss-programmed wake up alarm. M4w, E train 3 am: You

were the sad girl wearing a blue t-shirt and white/light grey

shorts. Me, tan khakis, black shirt w/white logo, black glasses,

bob marley was playing on my iPod shuffle. You had wavy hair

tied back, then you let it down. You have an amazing natural

beauty. The sad girlfriend rubs her metrocard on her face. Some

of the ink has left the card and stained her nose. Is it ever worth

wearing a dress? In the day it can feel relaxing, but by night it’s

just a flag waving to the rapists. The sad girlfriend realizes her

eyes have been resting in someone else’s eyes. The someone else

smiles. You sat by the door. I stole a few glances, didn't stare,

but totally wanted to. You were breathtaking. If you happen to

read this and are available/interested send me a email.

Sometimes landing a boyfriend feels like being drafted in the

NBA. Well, I’ve always wanted to play for Chicago, ever since I

was little watching games. I think I can really help this ballclub

out of its recent difficulties. Which one of her thoughts will be

the last to sulk around her brain understood? Her parents feel

far away as a wallet-sized photograph. Her tombstone will stand

straight, while Brad Pitt’s life continues in its wayward path.

The darkness of the subway car is Truth. Outside the tunnel the

world is living its noisy way. A.m. eyes are dizzy from craigslist.

Bulky guys are flashing flashlights over driver’s licenses. Why

were buildings built over our sky? It’s only occasionally when we

see the moon, but it’s supposed to be the main thing up there.

You take the train from Astoria to Manhattan. You're about 5'6",

petite, really cute short dark hair, always dress casually; tee

shirt, cargo pants, etc. I think you're greek. You never smile. You

are so unbelievably sexy and rarely look up from your sudoku.

The world has already ended. It ended when Chris Columbus

peed on land. When Jesus died and everyone got obsessed with

him. In 2000 when everything was going to fuck up and then

nothing fucked up at all. The whole next millennium lay open,

its ten centuries available, its decades in rows. No one is

watching us lay toilet paper on the wet public toilet seats. The

babies becoming grandmothers. Movies remaking themselves

over. We carry our water in cups, draw sunglasses on our sun. I

should've said something but couldn't think of anything unlame

to say. You looked so tired, slouching in your tank top. Let me

take care of you. I see you most every working day. We enter the

train thru the same set of doors and exit at Penn. You have dark

shoulder length hair, which is sometimes still wet in the

morning. I am too shy to say hi. You were the most incredible

beauty I saw all day. You are absolutely stunning. I was amazed

by your beauty and was in awe and I am never in awe of anyone

or anything. Eventually I'll have to say something to you, maybe

when I see you walking down 22nd to the stop, flip-flops

pattering out the beats of my heart. You sat with me until i got

off at times sq. the conductor said be careful to the 59th st. stop

and i said careful of what? we looked at each other and you

similed. The sad girlfriend may die a terrible death of terrorists.

There will be no children there to watch with honest eyes. The

analyst will be so upset. The sad girlfriend had tried to watch the

world news, but the stories lacked the details needed to engage

her. Brad Pitt fell for a girl that doesn’t wear shoes when she

doesn’t want to. To have a boyfriend is to play in the privileged

center of a story. To be sad is to hang low, matching mind to

gravity, to feel the indoors and outdoors so hard it makes your

head ring. This is being written to the angel who shared her

bottle of water with a homeless person during the heat wave.

You were wearing a beige see-through outfit. You had a

beautiful golden complexion. I believe you are Italian. I hope

that you are out there.