TWO FROM SEARCHING FOR THE SOUL
In this room, among men of my generation of athletes, gray haired, aging
and aged, Joe Kapp, wild man, Mexican/Indian, famous for his exploits
on the football field, still wild, here like the rest of us to honor a great
dead coach, embraces me. And I embrace back, hearing him whisper
in my ear the word Soul as if he is imparting to me a special secret
he’s discovered on his journey into the condition of dementia.
Too many knocks on the old noggin fuck it who gives a shit didn’t we
have some good times? Was he telling me I had a soul or that souls
are present in this room, wafting through the air with the bravado
stories of our heroics? Oh, that we were ever so young and athletic
and destined for greatness. Was he pouring from the cup of his mouth
some special knowledge into my ear, a warm and blessed liquid. O my soul,
is that you, coming to me when I least expect it, announcing your existence
among so many good men, through the mouth of this man, shaman
of expletives, high priest of stories and fists, and laughs, and beers
and hijinks that I recall left us all breathless, filled with good humor? O Joe,
quarterback, who never ran out of bounds because only gringos do, wild,
violent Joe, have you given me a parting gift, a piece of the eternal puzzle?
There are souls and then there are Russian souls—wintery and sad.
Dead souls and souls reeking of vodka, souls dancing, souls weeping.
There are souls among the fat men in the banya, souls thrashed
to a pink glow by the banya-master, souls that fall into the ice
bath and rise like pot-bellied Christs out of the baptismal.
I am the son of Russians visiting Saint Petersburg at the start
of banya season. Between herring in sour cream, black bread,
and vodka, I am slapped on the back and told I possess
the soul of a Russian. There is no better place to find
the soul than in the banya. Ask any Russian. First comes
the vodka, the poems by Pushkin and Lermontov follow.
Pushkin is gold, Lermontov is silver. Outside, the weather
is changing. Soon it will snow. This too invites a discussion
on the nature of the soul. How it is best understood in winter.
How one soul will fall from the sky, then another and another.
—from Rattle #60, Summer 2018
Tribute to Athlete Poets
Tom Meschery: “As a Russian immigrant, I learned to play basketball in order to become an American. I learned the game well enough to become a high school and college All-American. I played ten years in the National Basketball Association with the Golden State Warriors and the Seattle Sonics. As a Russian, I grew up on poetry—Pushkin, Lermentov, Akhmatova, Mandelstam. I began writing poems while I was an NBA player. I’ve never stopped. Sport is a sensory activity, so is writing poetry. I allowed instinct to guide my basketball. I allow instinct to guide my poetry.” (web)