WATCHING FOOTBALL ON TV
by Howard Nemerov
It used to be only Sunday afternoons,
But people have got more devoted now
And maybe three four times a week retire
To their gloomy living room to sit before
The polished box alive with silver light
And moving shadows, that incessantly
Gives voice, even when pausing for messages.
The colored shadows made of moving light,
The voice that ritually recites the sense
Of what they do, enter a myriad minds.
Down on the field, massed bands perform the anthem
Sung by a soprano invisible elsewhere;
Sometimes a somewhat neutral public prayer
For in the locker rooms already both
Sides have prayed God to give them victory.
Totemic scarabs, exoskeletal,
Nipped in at the thorax, bulky above and below,
With turreted hard heads and jutting masks
And emblems of the lightning or the beast;
About the size of beetles in our sight,
Save for the closeup and the distant view,
Yet these are men, our representatives
More formidable than ourselves in speed and strength
And preparation, and more injured too;
Bandage and cast exhibit breakages
Incurred in wars before us played before;
Hard plaster makes a weapon of an arm,
A calf becomes a club. Now solemnly
They take up their positions in the light,
And soon their agon will begin again.
To all this there are rules. The players must
Remember that in the good society
Grabbing at anybody’s mask will be
A personal foul and incur a penalty.
So too will pushing, tripping, interfering
In any manner with someone else’s pass.
Fighting is looked on with particular
Severity; though little harm can come
To people so plated at shoulder, head and thigh,
The most conspicuous offenders are
Ejected from the game and even lined.
That’s one side of the coin, the other one
Will bear the picture of a charging bull
Or some such image imprecating fear,
And for its legend have the one word: Kill.
Priam on one side sending forth eleven
Of many sons, and Agamemnon on
The other doing much the same; is it
The Game of Troy again? the noble youth
Fiery with emulation, maneuvering
Toward power and preeminence? Well no,
It’s not. Money is the name of the game
From the board room to the beers and souvenirs.
The players are mean and always want more money.
The owners are mean and always have more money
And mean to keep it while the players go
Out there to make them more; they call themselves
Sportsmen, they own, are and carry a club.
Remember this when watching the quarterback’s
Suppliant hands under the center’s butt.
We watch all afternoon, we are enthralled
To what? some drama of the body and
The intellectual soul? of strategy
In its rare triumphs and frequent pratfalls?
The lucid playbook in the memory
Wound up in a spaghetti of arms and legs
Waving above a clump of trunks and rumps
That slowly sorts itself out into men?
That happens many times. But now and then
The runner breaks into the clear and goes,
The calm parabola of a pass completes
Itself like destiny, giving delight
Not only at skill but also at the sight
Of men who imitate necessity
By more than meeting its immense demands.
Passing and catching overcome the world,
The hard condition of the world, they do
Human intention honor in the world.
A football wants to wobble, that’s its shape
And nature, and to make it spiral true
‘s a triumph in itself, to make it hit
The patterning receiver on the hands
The instant he looks back, well, that’s to be
For the time being in a state of grace,
And move the viewers in their living rooms
To lost nostalgic visions of themselves
As in an earlier, other world where grim
Fate in the form of gravity may be
Not merely overcome, but overcome
Casually and with style, and that is grace.
Each year brings rookies and makes veterans,
They have their dead by now, their wounded as well,
They have Immortals in a Hall of Fame,
They have the stories of the tribe, the plays
And instant replays many times replayed.
But even fame will tire of its fame,
And immortality itself will fall asleep.
It’s taken many years, but yet in time,
To old men crouched before the ikon’s changes,
Changes become reminders, all the games
Are blended in one vast remembered game
Of similar images simultaneous
And superposed; nothing surprises us
Nor can delight, though we see the tight end
Stagger into the end zone again again.