All posts by alexfnesmith

Unexpected Basketballs

I’m on a mission to ever expand the parentheses of “normal.” Now for “the other shoe to drop.” Will I be able to drag that into the periphery of those little ()? I’m afraid I’m afraid. I fear not knowing the profundity of the proverbial shoe.

So I do what all do- I wait. And as they say, “Don’t hold your breath.” And speaking of sayings. Something comes along and knocks the breath out of you. Now that’s a bit frightening – until you pass out. And this happened to me once.

We had an open field in the middle of our neighborhood, maybe as large as 3 football fields. Towards the middle, someone’s Dad put up a creosote pole with a homemade basketball backboard into the red Alabama dirt. With a goal and net of course. Bring your own basketball. And we did. I suppose if all the hours were added together, like man-hours on the job, we played a total of 4 or 5 years out there. We once played some 2 on 2 in 18 degree weather for at least 3 hours one day.

But it was another pick-up game with the neighborhood guys that I felt that panic of not being able to breath.

In our neighborhood, everyone seemed to live there forever. Everyone knew who lived in every house, all around the rather large “suburb” of Oxford, Alabama. And one of those families was the Youngs, the kids were Willard, Paul and Charlotte. They lived across the street from my sister’s future husband’s family, the Owens.

One day we chose up teams and played several games, and for this particular game, Willard was on one team and I the other. I was at the time about 12 or so, and Willard I think about 18 or 19. Willard wasn’t as I recall the athletic type, not like his brother, Paul. He even wore what we called “horn-rimmed glasses.”

During the heat of the game, the ball was about to go out of bounds, which was something of a misnomer, since there were no boundary lines painted or drawn on the red dirt court, made barren and smooth enough by hundreds of hours of thousands of dribbled basketballs. But we played on the honor system – you fouled, you admitted it. And if the ball was going out of bounds, the consensus was “out on you!” or “Our ball!” Unless someone saved it.

The ball was bouncing toward what would be the baseline, and Willard tight-roped the understood boundary and scooped the ball with his right hand, and flipped it vigorously back into play. Only I was standing right in the path, and the ball hit me squarely in the gut. I went down on elbows and knees, not breathing.

I recall thinking that if I held my breath just long enough, I could at a point then exhale and be able to inhale, to “catch my breath.” It was my plan. Until Willard Young, who felt badly about hitting me in the stomach, tried to help me up but placing his hands on either side of my stomach, and lifting me up, caused all the breath to escape my body. And the lights went out. I passed out cold.

When I woke up, I remember being upset with Willard. If only he’d left me alone, I would have certainly caught my breath and been fine. He only tried to help. He was nice like that as I recall.

Willard came to our house a few years later in an Army uniform. I don’t remember Willard ever being in our home before. He was a year older than my brother Larry, and think was there to talk to him. I do remember him talking to my Daddy, who was also in the army in World War II.

It could be that Willard was proud of the uniform. As I recall, he was very bright and was off to college, but had voluntarily joined the army. Whatever the story, it seemed strange to me that this sort of bookworm kind of guy had joined the army. He was there telling us that he was off to Vietnam.

It was only 4 years or less from that day, March 3, 1968, that our whole neighborhood, our town and our school, Oxford High School, got word that Willard had been killed in action in Vietnam.

That knocked the breath out of me in a different way.


Pain remembered

I read the Psalms daily. Have for 5 years. Generally I would say, given recent thinking about the life of C.S. Lewis, the Psalms are raw and human, as his writings reveal he was.

There is also a new idea gleaned from my favorite author, Oswald Chambers, that of living a “perfectly actual life,” as opposed to an “actually perfect life,” which is another way of saying that life really is raw and human as well.

It is futile to say there is no death, war, disease or pain, when there actually is.

I read a Psalm this morning that screamed the following demand of God, as if throwing a fit.

“Get up, God! Are you going to sleep all day?

Wake up! Don’t you care what happens to us?

Why do you bury your face in the pillow?

Why pretend things are just fine with us?

And here we are – flat on our faces in the dirt, held down with a boot on our necks.

Get up and come to our rescue.

If you love us so much, help us!”

Who dares speak to God this way! No one who grew up with a religion which they inherited.

Unless they fell down and broke themselves since. I remember coming to this attitude.

Even the other night.

But what prompted me to write was reading another Psalm just now. In it was one of those verses I had heard, like a lot of singular verses, which describes something that leads one to believe it means one thing when in context it is speaking of some other thing.

“And I said, Oh, that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away, and be at rest.”

Well everyone knows that’s about heaven.

Or not.

The context is actually pain. When I read the complete thought, I realized I’ve lived it, and felt it deeply.

“My heart is very pained within me, and the terrors of death are fallen upon me.

Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me.

And I said, Oh, that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away, and be at rest.

Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah.”

I used this translation because of its poetic beauty.

“…terrors of death are fallen upon me.”

“…and horror has overwhelmed me.”

I’ve not been near death, but I’ve had emotional pain so powerful that “terrors of death” seemed an appropriate metaphor.

Sometimes I forget that this happened.

I don’t have to remember it.

But I don’t want to forget it.

I’ve often spoken about my corner room in my inner cellar, my emotional refuge.

Imagine needing relief so desperately that your imagination could believe it if suddenly dove’s wings sprouted, and one could escape and “wander far off, and remain in the wilderness.”

And “Selah” generally means, “now stop and think about that.”

I’m sure I keep thinking about this general subject because I wonder sometimes if anyone, especially those hurt by me, or those just embarrassed by what they heard I did, could ever imagine that I too experienced unbearable pain.

And that I sometimes remember it.

I intend to practice being healthy by not forgetting.

From up here

The rugged air

like a country road

in a farmer’s pickup

kicking up red dust


Or in a boat

skimming on the tops

of chops

in the waves


The plane

also skipping


on airy speed bumps


I’ve the sense

that I’m not flying

until I swallow

and the roar deepens


Down there

first the black snake

of a river

headless, tailess


Then the blanket

of bluish-white covering

and sailing

a cloudy sea

My Talented Ears

While reading a poem


on an airplane


on the ground



flight attendant’s


hurried instructions




that really don’t need saying



and a guy


in front of me


leaving a business message


by phone



in that abnormal voice


we all use


when not speaking


to any real people


except who really is listening



but that’s the point


that I’m listening


to my poet


not with ears


I should read poetry every day

it should inspire me to write

about little things I notice

or else unnoticed they would remain



and upon assigning words

they would become big and seen

like the little bird sitting on the railing

along a sidewalk, a railing of pipes



too big for his tiny feet to grasp

and mostly his body rested there

and as I approached, he did not fly

His black back so black it was steel blue



like a handgun or Superman’s hair

when he was in comic books

he flitted his wings as if jittering at my presence

but never set himself to flight



only the next day, there he sat again

and I wondered if perhaps he was hurt

and unable to escape, in case I was his predator

and if so, at whose mercy was he?

Good Friday

Poor Jesus.
He’s dead.
We brood, as if to endure the commemoration of it.
Can’t wait till Resurrection Sunday morning.
Death by death is destroyed
by remaining dead.
It can take life but once and no more.
Death is negated by itself,
and death is quiet because it’s dead.
There was a serenity in the quietness of his tomb that night.
The writhing approach of death arrived
and with it came quiet.
And it’s still quiet in there,
because what’s dead is dead,
including my right to myself.
The death I died with Jesus is forever
to whatever it was he died;
And the life he lives in me is forever
to whom he lives.
That me is unanimated, and can remain so.
His new life has a body to live in,
A dead one, animated only by what raised his.

redemption’s groan

I feel as the tree, the lion, the bird;

I groan for redemption, of this I have heard

in Romans; uniting all creatures in one,

at last to be freed by God’s only Son.


The tree waves and bends, but rooted it stays,

The lion sends out roars, not only for prey,

The bird chants its song, no words to declare

what all of us want, to see our God there.