Friday, November 21, 2008

POETRY FRIDAY: Defending Walt Whitman

Another Poetry Friday in November—and here’s another Sherman Alexie poem for you. It’s a poem about basketball and American Indian boys and God and brown skin and muscles and athletic prowess and hair and young veterans of foreign wars…and a bearded Walt Whitman observing it all. Who else but Alexie could write a poem like this?

From Defending Walt Whitman
by Sherman Alexie

Basketball is like this for young Indian boys, all arms and legs

and serious stomach muscles. Every body is brown!

These are the twentieth-century warriors who will never kill,

although a few sat quietly in the deserts of Kuwait,

waiting for orders to do something, to do something.

God, there is nothing as beautiful as a jumpshot

on a reservation summer basketball court

where the ball is moist with sweat,

and makes a sound when it swishes through the net

that causes Walt Whitman to weep because it is so perfect.

There are veterans of foreign wars here

although their bodies are still dominated

by collarbones and knees, although their bodies still respond

in the ways that bodies are supposed to respond when we are young.

Every body is brown! Look there, that boy can run

up and down this court forever. He can leap for a rebound

with his back arched like a salmon, all meat and bone

synchronized, magnetic, as if the court were a river,

as if the rim were a dam, as if the air were a ladder

leading the Indian boy toward home.

You can read the rest of the poem here.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have a bunch of original list poems I posted for Tricia’s Poetry Stretch this week.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Brimstone Soup.


mbpbooks said...

Thank you for this, and to Sherman Alexie, for the beautiful images of brown boys relishing a game I love.

Elaine Magliaro said...


I've become a big fan of Alexie's poetry ever since I read his book THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN. I love the voice I hear coming through in his writing.

Sarah Rettger said...

That's a beautiful poem. One of these days, I really am going to get to Part-Time Indian, I mean it.

Elaine Magliaro said...


When you do get around to reading Alexie's book, I hope you will like it as much as I did.

tanita✿davis said...

I've been discovering this guy's poetry since last year, and every single one of them has been a jewel that hits me differently. I love the words "every body" -- not everybody, a taken for granted, run-together thing, but no: every body. Lovely, lovely.

Elaine Magliaro said...


It's always a great thing for me when I discover a new voice in poetry--and I love Alexie's poems.