Alice Major’s Sports Poems

About this poem
One of my first assignments as the City of Edmonton’s first poet laureate was to write a poem for the Mayor’s Evening for the Arts. Now official poems don’t always lead to the creation of good poetry. But I had an added complication: we were also in the middle of huge civic excitement about the NHL hockey playoffs – Edmonton was within lunging range of the Stanley Cup that year.

And there was going to be a hockey game on that night.

The mayor kept announcing the score between arts awards – to an audience of 1500 people who probably all wanted to be home watching it.

I felt, clearly, I had to address the issue of hockey in my poem for the occasion. The problem: I felt I didn’t know enough about hockey to write a good poem about it. So I went hunting around in my brain for some way to say something engaging – and came up with the idea of “the superposition of states.”

This is the concept from physics where a subatomic particle like an electron exists in all its probable states and we will never know something like exactly where it is until we measure it. Only then does it collapse into one defined state.

I figured I knew as much about that as I did about hockey. But I liked the challenge of putting unexpected things together. So this is the poem I came up with….

I never thought I’d write a hockey poem

Climbing dim stairs
at midnight, when spring has struggled back
like the shifting fortunes
of a playoff series and the may tree is shaking out
its tasselled blossoms,
while the full moon skims down the sky,
a white puck.

A mile or two away, on the frozen-cloud surface
of the real arena,
a winter sport is superimposed on spring.
Third period
of overtime, and young men battle back and forth,
trying to collapse
wave on wave of possibility to a point
of dense rubber
observed at last in one net or another.

But I am going off to bed,
leaving fortune
in a superposition of states. Not realizing
I’ll awake
to a radio announcer’s words – We won – and find
that gladness scores
an absurd and unexpected slapshot.

It’s not specific consequences of a victory
that really matter –
not the celebrating crowds that surge from bars,
a muddled wave machine
of jubilee and mob. Not the poet who observes
within herself
a tremour of unfamiliar fandom and a poem.

It’s the mad fact
that we live every moment of our lives in overtime –
a condition
of entangled futures waiting to be observed.
May flowers
and blue lines, uproar and moonlight
overlapping
in the kind of world where anything
might happen.
– by Alice Major

The athletes enter the closing ceremonies

We watch them jostle in.
We are aware of our own wonky knees,
our tendonitis and carpal tunnels,
our hernias and narrowing aortas –
aware of all the ways
the physical can fail us.

We have been awed by their bodies –
the strength and bulk of muscle,
the sleek speed of skaters, skiers,
the targeted exactitude
of wrist and hand, sinew,
nerve, eye.

But now it is their glowing faces
that fill the TV screen. Not the sheen
of medals, but the beautiful,
inebriating joy. It reminds us all
of how the body goes beyond itself.
Becoming, somehow, soul.
-Alice Major
Written for the Edmonton celebration of winning athletes returning from the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

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