After leaving a career in music (classical guitar) due to injury, David Linebarger earned a Ph.D. in English at the University of California, Davis. He currently teaches Interdisciplinary Humanities and Comparative Religions at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He is the author of two chapbooks: “War Stories” (Pudding House Publications) and “Bed of Light” (Finishing Line Press). His poems have appeared in over twenty journals, including The Bitter Oleander, Borderlands, The Café Review, Slipstream, and The Wallace Stevens Journal.
A Prose Poem
By David Linebarger
Choose a number from 1-4.
I Better if the violence happens offstage as in Greek drama. Just give me the plot, the facts. The nine-inch boning knife, the deranged fan of Steffi Graf coming out of the stands, the attempted killer walking free. Catharsis means the purging of pity and fear, what spectators should feel. Ok, ok. I just felt stunned, and then, like everyone, I went on with my life. Monica Seles? Wasn’t she the one who was stabbed?
II One by one, a whole bag of oreo cookies. Run a dozen 400 meters back to back, then train for three hours more. What’s on TV? What’s in the fridge? Are there any post tarts left? Overeating is one way to cope with violence. Raped, stabbed, depression, doubt, numbness, withdrawal . . . How many struggle against demons we guess at but never know? How many, like Monica, come out free and clear on the other end?
III The joyous all-out control-abandon-release of her ground strokes. The two pitched (uw whee) of gruntscream gruntscream gruntscream. Two hands of both sides, the forehand indistinguishable from the backhand. No one hurled more arms legs body mind propeller hips shoulders pinwheel buzzsaw grunt backhand scream forehand scream ferocity joy crazed ball machine double time triple time missiles torpedoes Monica’s game like a military weapon that even Leonardo with all his imagination could not have invented for the women’s game.
IV From 91-93 captured seven grand slams. Three straight French, three straight Australian. Youngest ever in history to win the French open at 16 years old. Ranked #1 in 91 and 92. If not for being stabbed in 1993, how many grand slams would Seles have won?
Ever play an intelligent backboard with perfect, precise ground stokes? Add steely focus and determination. Who cares if she has an average serve? What happens when you play her on a slow surface like clay? 125 straight wins. Seven years on tour without losing! And in all matches on every surface, the best winning percentage of all time. Here’s a softball: Of the five greatest female tennis players—Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Serena Williams—who was the one good athlete? Easy to name the Amazons: Margaret, Martina, Steffi , Serena. That leaves Chrissie, and if we take pure athleticism out of the equation (can we do that?), she is easily the best player who has ever lifted a racquet. Average mover. Average power. But no one ever struck the ball more precisely and consistently than Chris. And that perfect, teachable technicque. “Training the body to obey the mind,” as Chris herself put it. Her two-handed backhand sparked a revolution. Did your daughters hit it, too? Due to her classical good looks and feminine style, the press called her “Cinderella in Sneakers,” “America’s Sweetheart.” After winning and winning, a cooler, cruel wind: “Ice Princess,” “Ice Maiden.” In the 1970s, how many women wanted to be like her? How many men fell in love?
Bad Ass. That’s what I say to my daughters. That’s what they say to me. We repeat it for emphasis in hushed tones, reverence: Serena’s a Bad Ass. Diva of high notes, fashion. Built like a brick house in black tight leather. Her powerful body in a leopard skin dress as it prepares to pounce on a weak second serve. Primal screams. Intimidating glares. Bad Ass. She serves almost as hard as half the men–and with accuracy, placement, disguise. How many women pitch in the big leagues? That’s what Serena’s serve is. Who cannot love her much maligned father? Every day his children had to fill an empty page with reflections, thoughts. Here are some of Serena’s notes to read to herself during matches: Attack the short ball—it’s waiting for U!!! U R black and U can endure anything. Endure. Perservere. Stand Tall. . . . U R part of the strongest people alive. Nothing is worse than what your grandparents and great-grandparents went through. Nothing is more difficult. Nothing. Get up, get out and make yourself/your people happy and proud! Who could possibly bring such thoughts to life on a tennis court? Thank you, Richard Williams. Thank you, Oracene.