three lights


I can still hear it: the perfect sound of a basketball bouncing off the pavement. Ordinarily if I was terrible at a sport I hated it, but basketball was the exception. People too uptight to dance will still let it all go in a pickup game. You can see the poetry they keep locked inside, and maybe it isn't good poetry, but most people can't tell you what makes poetry good anyway.

That afternoon it was me and an honest to god poet playing one on one. The game was tentative at first, scarcely more than the two of us taking turns at the free throw line. Soon enough though, we were running against each other. Her lungs were smaller, less conditioned, so even though I was terrible it was obvious she couldn't win.

But she played anyway.

I smiled when on sheer instinct she began throwing elbows against my rib cage. This was important. There must always be violence in the song. For a moment I even considered letting her win, but the sky was the kind of blue you only see in memories and the sun though brilliant wasn't blinding. A summer day where you can take the whole world in without squinting isn't the sort of day on which you take a dive.

Good game. She smiles. I mean it too because, even though I beat her soundly, she was still the better poet. She must have known that. We should play again sometime. We should.

The ball drops from her hands. I can still hear it: the perfect sound of the basketball bouncing off the pavement, keeping time like a drumbeat. I turn around and see what she's looking at: Three robed figures shining against the summer's sun.

Do you see them too? I confess that I do, but withhold that I've been looking for them ever since my cousin and his friends, drunk and terrified, spoke of being chased through the nearby woods by three lights.

They are lanterns, guides into the darkness at the heart of those woods. I do not know how I know this, but I know it as surely as I know the rhythm of our game had called them.

Brian Shaughnessy