Ode to Uncle Pinball (On the Death of My Uncle Dale)

It was the four of us,

Uncle Dale and three cousins.

Reagan was President.

A Thanksgiving,

and our Turkey Bowl

had ended with

the only victory by the cousins

over the uncles,

and no longer would

Dale burn Darin deep.

We drove out to my Mother’s

tiny rural school,

with its tiny gym,

metal backboards

and tiled parquet floor,

where the top of the keys

met at half court.

Two on two, full court,

each cousin teamed with Uncle Dale,

twenty-one baskets to win.

We’d never played basketball together.

We never would again.

I forget the outcomes.

The outcomes mattered then,

they don’t now.

The first game began.

I forget the pairing.

I’ve pretty much forgotten

everything about that afternoon,

except Dale,

on the court,

as if Dr. J and Pete Maravich

had never been born,

and Bob Cousy beamed down

from the Celtic afterlife

and commandeered Dale’s body.

There he was,

running, running,

running us into the ground,

lickety brindling up the floor,

corkscrewing into the key,

knifing to the hoop,

twisting, turning, torquing

like Dave Twardzick,

the human Pin Ball.

Bill Schonley called him that on the radio,

when the Red Hot and Rollin’

Blazers won it all,

and now Dale was doing his Dave,

flinging reverse lay-ups.

with exquisite English, with either hand,

kissing them off the glass,

no, metal!

Always going to the hardwood

no, tile!

scrambling up, beating the

cousins back down the court.

Do I need to say his hair never moved?

Dale had no jump shot

that I recall.

It was drive, penetrate,

dribble drive again.


there was one long distance shot

he threw up that afternoon,

out of the Naismith museum of basketball,

Dale approached half court.

I sagged to defend.

He dribbled forward.

He slowed down.

He clutched the ball with two hands.

He adjusted it.

He poised to shoot.

He sprung forward off his right foot.

He took flight.

He shot the ball with his right hand.

I watched it sail over my head.

A running one hand…what the?

A push shot!

Yeah, that’s what they called it, push shot.

Dale had let one fly.

It flew. It arched. It rotated.

Can I say it went in?

Can I say nothing but net?

Can I say it hung the twine?

Can I say Rip City?

I don’t know.

But I can say,

rest in peace Uncle Dale.

You made that shot in life.