My father nailed a basketball hoop
to a catalpa tree beside the shed,
a growing tree which in a handful of years
would raise that rim far beyond our reach.
No matter that dribbling was
improbable in the dirt and roots,
the glossy, brown catalpa pods
crunching underfoot. My sister
flung a heavy ball toward the rim
while I watched from the roof of the shed,
lying on my belly, chin in my hands.
It was often like that, up away
from things, alert to my own ticking.
When the ball careened into a patch
of poison ivy, my sister could only stand
and stare at the flickering leaves
where it had vanished. From the roof
I pinpointed the spot with her.
Gnats zigzagged the humid air.
Soon enough Dad would walk from his office
along the shortcut through the trees,
up past the grove of bamboo,
three towering oaks, up the hill
by the shed. He’d be the one to fish
the ball out again, the only one
whose skin wouldn’t blister raw
for weeks when touched by those oils.
We’d run the ball under the hose,
rolling it with the toes of our sneakers,
and rub it dry with a rag. I’d wave
the damp ball back and forth to dry
in the meager breeze my motion made,
until my sister, hopping anxiously
from one foot to another, grabbed it
to dribble again, crusts of dirt
scaling the ball, scaling her palms,
scabbing over everything.
Ann Hudson’s first book, The Armillary Sphere, was published by Ohio University Press. Her poems have appeared in Cider Press Review, Orion, Crab Orchard Review, North American Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She is an associate editor for Rhino, and teaches at a Montessori school in Evanston, Illinois.