The Court of Mercury

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From The Games Men Play series

For John J. Roque

Come on, let’s play
I serve
Rib cage flashing ’neath my shirt
You return
Swaying as you pounce
Gliding on Mercury’s wings
I serve
You volley
I volley
You serve
Together we do the impossible
Open and close this court
Play the corners like pool sharks
Slip one past the other
For a cross-court winner
Or slug it out grunting from the base line
Like gladiators in heat armed with rackets instead of swords
We sit, then, sip, towel off, change ends
Never speaking
Never looking at each other
Only the ball
We were young together
Mates, junior players
A year, a month and a week apart
I, the elder, was better first
You were a gracious loser
At night we hurried to your room, my room
I drew back your hoodie like a bridal veil
A smile laced your stubble
Come on, I said, let’s play
I’ll serve
You return
We volleyed
Back and forth
Bone on bone
Muscle on muscle
Until there was only liquid warmth and release
After I held you, child of war,
As you cried in your sleep,
“The city’s burning.”
Now I long to tell you that old men
Make war so young men die
But nothing lasts
The antagonists shift
I cannot, though, comfort you
We are rivals
With a net for a border
And stark white lines
The rules of the game
You pick up some clay
And wash your hands of it
It falls on your socks like iron pilings
The color of dried blood
You serve an ace
Game, set and match
I lose again
But then, I lost you long ago
Our exchanges have grown clipped
The handshakes crisp
But today you embrace me at the net
And cup the back of my head
I cannot see your face
Yet I know it is full of longing
The landscape of what we once had
Some day this match will be written in the dust
Perhaps then we will remember only love.


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