“Free Association” by Nicholas Holt

Nicholas Holt


implies the existence of paid
association and correct me
if I’m wrong but I’m pretty
sure that’s how Shaquille
O’Neal is making all his money.
It seems like each time
I pour a bowl of cereal,
Shaq emerges from my
air vents and asks if I’d
rather eat the new mutant
fruit he’s been growing
in his closet next to his
shoes the size of bread
loaves. I can’t say no!
The ways of making
money in this world
aren’t very good and 
precious few of us are
happy on weekends, so my 
only hope is to run for president
of poetry which I don’t
really deserve anyway.
I can hear you now: don’t
sell yourself short! but 
anyone having to sell
themselves is exactly
the problem and it’s hard
to feel anything but short
when Shaquille O’Neal
is constantly standing over
me shouting my new colostomy
bag is a slam dunk for
your excrement! I’m not
sorry, I’m just confused 
why gambling is illegal
in so many places when
that’s just what being born
is. Please don’t be mistaken.
I have nothing but love 
for the air-throttling 
Aristotling diesel Dr. 
Daddy Mayor McShaq—
the crack-a-lackin’ always
attackin’ comptroller
court controller president of 
dunketry,  O heavenly father
of oddball endorsements
and 52.7% free throw 
percentage, you tweeted
once that the Earth is flat
and dammit I believe
you—this world is yours
Shaquille, flat and shiny
as a basketball court
with all its peach trees
and double-dribbles—
thank you, thank you
for letting me frolic 
through your garden 
with James Harden,
driving constantly
towards a hoop as tall
and beautiful as you are.

from Rattle #80, Summer 2023


Nicholas Holt: “I used to think the only good job was being paid to write poetry. While pursuing that job, my goals of making money and writing poetry kept interfering with each other. I tried to write poems that sounded like what was selling, and writing them felt inauthentic. This poem is a reflection on that period of my life and marks one of my first attempts to re-enter my voice with a new perspective. It feels good to write what makes your soul feel fully explored, whether it helps you ease life’s other burdens or not.”

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