“No Name” by James Adams

James Adams


He had a huge rep
an enormous clay court game
wicked topspin off both wings
and a big, big name—

his entourage clucked Spanish at him
in arrogant homage,

drip-breasted groupies
with their dark mascara smiling
at me during the brief warmup
with crocodile teeth
and dark-rouge
reptile cheeks.

His sponsor reps had popped
into town to snap pictures of him
wearing the latest, smiling
like the greatest, while
dismantling the first round
American No Name.

In warmup his strokes twisted my racquet
butting it against my hand and fingers—
heavy, sopping shots that promised
blisters before the second set
as the ball nap whizzed the air
dipping hornets, fizzing explosive
spin into my palm.

It was hard not to watch him stroke
he was that beautiful
the perfect brown skin,
the heavy gold chain, cross, earring,
Baryshnikov footwork, smooth
glide and anticipation.
Off to the side I saw the coach
casually pointing to the next round
opponent on the draw board.

Nobody stood holding towels for me
nobody sat in my stands
my German sports-oil sponsor
had said clothing patches were not
in the budget

the Italian shoe company had gone
out of business when their sole adhesive
melted in American hardcourt heat.

My Le Coq outfit was one I had won
in lieu of prize money—

“Time,” the official called
as people settled in with drinks and cellphones
on the far side of the court.

He looked through me,
cocking his head to the chief moll
who continued her knowing
smile at him to me
with a Jezebelled hook.

I can’t account for what happened

we were on my favorite surface
slick, low bounce indoor composite

but that couldn’t explain it:
I boomed every serve in the corners
his vicious returns were feathered

into sharp, angled cross court
drop volley winners,
nothing he could do

the first game at love in four minutes
I ripped all his serves on the lines
15 minutes more and
I was up 5-0.

He screamed to Barcelonic heaven
he threw yellow fluorescent
balls into the overhead lights
he cursed the Castillian tennis gods
shaking his head and fists
at the air, at the ground, at me

he stumbled to retrieve my cut slice
off-balance winners
looking foolish
each time I wrong-footed him
then turned to shrug sheepishly
at his coach, whose cigarette
had turned to ash on his lips

the reps had stood cameraless
but sat in shock
their drinks half full

I never felt emotion, no nerves
both knees dripping blood
from textbook low volleys
I was numb perfect
moving like a harrier, falcon jet
fast and bullet proof, I never missed
it was over like electricity

the girls kleenex’d their mascara

—as I packed my courtbag
and walked off
by myself to shower.

from Rattle #60, Summer 2018
Tribute to Athlete Poets


James Adams: “I grew up playing America’s top two sports: football and baseball. I always wanted to play in the NFL or MLB. When that didn’t work out, I started playing tennis seriously. Eventually, I became a member of the U.S. Professional Tennis Association, and got to play all over the U.S. and overseas. The all-encompassing tennis training discipline of mind, body, will, and spirit gave (and still gives) me the power to better concentrate on a page of poetry. Much of winning tennis is about mind over matter, in the face of tremendous adversity. Writing poems is the same challenge.”

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