• You and a basketball were amazing.
    Both abandoned your identities;
    Became one creature,
    Rhythmic, drumming,
    Dancing across the pavement.

    The first time I saw you,
    I was getting groceries
    And I saw you practicing.
    I couldn’t look away.
    I sat and watched you dance
    Until my lettuce wilted and milk spoiled.

    You caught me staring.
    I asked you to teach me.
    You threw the basketball.
    I ducked.

    “You can’t learn basketball
    If you can’t catch the thing!”
    You laughed.

    We both learned.
    In back-alley half courts,
    Among beer bottles and cigarette stubs,
    Graffiti and black boys.
    You taught me to catch a basketball.
    I taught you to sing.

    “Are you always singing?”
    It makes me happy.
    Why don’t you ever sing?
    “Never learned.
    No one in my family ever sang.
    I guess we didn’t have anything
    That made us happy enough to sing.”

    “But now I’ve got my
    Anna Anna bo banna,
    Banana fanna fo fanna,
    Me my mo manna,

    I think your singing got too loud for the neighborhood boys,
    Because they started watching us;
    Glaring at you.
    You marched up to them,
    Told them to get their own girl,
    ‘Cause this court was ours.
    You said it as easily as you caught basketballs.

    Then you started singing about raindrops falling on your head,
    Your voice so loud it reached God himself.

    You were so loud.
    Even when you weren’t singing,
    You were too loud for them to ignore,
    Too different.

    I’m playing basketball on our court,
    Crunching on glass, bumping against graffiti.
    None of my shots make it.
    But I catch the thing.

    I throw and catch,
    Let the raindrops fall on my head
    —just like your song—
    And the rain washes my face clean.

    I can feel the black boys glaring at me
    Around corners, through windows.
    I yelled at them last week,
    Shoved them.

    I’m only catching basketballs,
    Just like you taught me.

    Maybe if I play in the rain long enough,
    My movements will become fluid like yours,
    And all I’ll need to think about will be that basketball,
    And I won’t hurt so much.

    Maybe if I sing loud enough,
    My voice will reach up to heaven like yours did,
    And you’ll brag to everyone about your girl,
    And God will smile.

    Maybe I’ll sing too loud someday,
    And they won’t be able to ignore me,
    Like you.

    Maybe they’ll shoot me too.