By Catherine Tufariello

Their shrieks careening dizzily between
Delight and outrage, the students in the yard
Are playing hard,
Though they have little room and nothing green
In their asphalt pen.  Nothing but fences, bricks,
And at regulation height, a pair of hoops
From which gray loops
Vestigially descend.  With graceful flicks
And swoops they pass, block, feint and argue fouls,
And all the while the staccato, meaty thwack—
Now quick, now slack—
Thrums on, a backbeat to their cheers and howls.

Three stories up, on her habitual perch,
A black-and-white cat observes the scene,
Brushing the screen
With her whiskers, as intent on scan and search
As though the swirl below were birds or fish.
In the cacophony, it seems she hears
The singing spheres,
Each ear a separately tuning radar dish.

I join her at the window, and together
We watch the game until the tardy bell,
Whose clanging knell
Recalls them, some still wrangling over whether
The last shot counted.  In the sudden peace,
A handyman, belt slung with rules and hammers,
Appears and clambers
Onto the gym roof.  While a scrawl of geese
Ripples on windy gray in ragged flight,
He gathers up the balls that got away
And spent the day
Aimlessly free—red, orange, purple, white—
And punts them, in bright arcs, back into play.


From Free Time, Robert L. Barth, publisher, © 2001;
originally published in The Hudson Review.  Reprinted
with permission.

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