November 19, 2019

familiar noose

martyrdom is such a guilty pleasure
especially when you
put yourself on a pedestal
for the proximity

you have to other people’s pain
you’re so predictable
with your use of crutches
they lied

when they told you
that people change grow
mature you’re still the same
timid boy

you’ve always been
somewhere in the middle you
discovered strategies to keep the madness at bay
music drink words

hard to decipher on tuesday nights
in november at midlife whether
these habits are swaths
of light guiding you through the encroaching

darkness or a familiar noose
don’t be so morbid
you will worry the people
who can’t know these poems are designed

merely to break the glass and dance on the shards
your childrens'
innocence can’t save you now
a reckless compass needle spinning

you don’t know how to say, you’re afraid
someone to keep you safe
no images or metaphor
feel adequate you were meant

to have found your bearings by now
empty glasses
years of bravado
songs you’ve still can’t play

a lifetime of feelings you’ll never name
expectant hopeful
these are the times we dreamt about
all of your empty spaces

allowed to creep and occupy
a pit of ashes before they float away

November 17, 2019

I Can't Put Them Down

Ian is a colleague of mine from Australia. He is the head of our English department and an all around good dude. While we can wax poetic about literature and philosophy, politics and sailing, he cannot understand how or why I engage with American football. On any given day, we might discuss the ill effects of toxic masculinity on culture, and yet he still can’t understand why I love this game, this team, my rituals.

In an effort to test my writing chops, I am going to try and explain to Ian the joy and excitement I feel every Monday morning, as I make my way to the couch in the dark, strap on the headphones and watch the opening play on my computer-up close and personal

As a lover of stories, my love of football is rooted in the narratives. I see football as literature and history. And the Raiders have always been my favorite characters engaged in the most unpredictable plots. I’ve written before about the personal history I have with this team. I have shared many thoughts on the folklore around who this team is and how I relate to their underdog rebellious themes, so tonight I want to focus on the characters and the story of this current team. I want to explain what a pleasure it is to follow the story of how a team is built in the off season and how those men are whittled down to a fifty-three man roster, and how a team overcomes adversity to work together for a shared purpose. Is that not literature, film, theatre?

Like most stories, we need a bit of context to understand the relevance of immediate characters and plots. I cannot tell the story of the 2019 Raiders without sharing some of their past. The condensed version is that they have been bad, terrible, a laughing stock since about 2002. Their aging owner went a bit mad for a decade, making terrible decisions and running the operation of the franchise into the ground until here died in 2011. Al Davis was like a Shakespearean hero turned lunatic mad king for the last years of his life, and in his last act of dementia, he passed the team onto his buffoon of a son who had less knowledge about running an NFL team than his crazy father. Think of Mark Davis as a goofy jester, ala Sancho Panza from Don Quixote.

A once majestic and glorified band of pirates who were equally feared and revered, fell into the hands of a mad king and his idiot son. The Raiders have been the epitome of dysfunction for the entirety of our current century. There was a blimp of hope in 2016 when things seemed to be going well- a decent season, with a decent team that ended with a tragic injury during the last weeks of the season and from there, we were back to the bottom of the heap.

But the idiot son, knowing that he needed help started to hire the right people- a much loved coach from the time they were not terrible and a general manager who knows players. He gave them lots of money and handed over the reins of the team. Oh and did I mentioned that team is leaving its blue-collar fan base in the crumbing city of Oakland for the shiny streets of Las Vegas. At this point it’s hard to know if this story is a tragedy or comedy.

Last year this duo tried to put together a team, but failed miserably. They traded away their best players in hopes that they could find younger ones who would buy into their vision and culture. They wanted high character players as well as seasoned vets who had chips on their shoulders. They reverted to the culture of the team and found players no one else wanted and gave them a chance. The Raiders have always been a home for outlaws and renegades, and the addition of players like Richie Incognito and Vontaze Burfict seemed foolish at the start of the year, but are looking better every week.

Here is a quick look at some of the current cast-

Josh Jacobs (rookie)- Was raised by a single dad, one of five kids. They were so poor that they sometimes lived in their car. He is a humble, hardworking, dedicated player and teammate. And he is on his way to becoming rookie of the year he is so good. He has rejuvenated the fan base and is an absolute pleasure to watch as a running back, which is my favourite position. He makes a great protagonist.

Eric Harris- Was not drafted. Worked in a potato chip factory before playing in Canada for a while. Got his chance with the Raiders two years ago and is now a starter. Has four kids under 5.

Darren Waller- Was cut from a team two years ago because he was addicted to cocaine and other drugs. He used to show up to practice high and drunk. The Raiders brought him on board on a whim from Mike Mayock and he is now sober and has the most catches for a tight end in the league. He is also a musician and a super down to earth guy doing work in the community with addicts and alcoholics.

Across the offence and defence we have nearly ten starting rookies who have 13 TDs, more than any other team. I remember watching the draft and watching these players be drafted. Hoping and praying that we would hit on these picks. That this would be the foundation for our team moving forward. That maybe for the first time in two decades the story of the Raiders would not be a joke.

We are 5 and 4 at the half way point of the season. On a two game win streak at home and playing an 0-9 team we are favoured to beat by 14 points. This is uncharted territory. The Raiders are famous for losing games like this, for shooting themselves in the foot, right when they should be getting hot. If we win tomorrow and the Chiefs lose we are in first place in the division and a play-off game does not seem impossible.

I assume people who follow good teams, don’t get this excited about every game, but for us Raider fans, these moments feel monumental. I cannot remember a game in the last three years, where we fired on all three fronts and dominated a team, so if we can’t do that playing an 0-9 team with a rookie quarterback, while we are on a hot streak and playing well, then we do not deserve any kind of play off talk.

These games are like chapters in a book. A book where you know and love the characters. One in which you’re committed to the setting and invested in the plot. You hope that you predictions about the plot end with euphoria and not disappointment.

Sunday nights are as anticipatory for me as the night before a birthday or Christmas Eve for a young child. I have a hard time falling asleep and my mind is constantly distracted with “visioning” what will happen the next morning, when I wake up at 5:00am to watch the Raider game. Living overseas, I do not have the luxury of watching NFL football, like I did for most of my life- lazy Sundays starting at 10:00am, then a game at 1:00pm and the night game at 7:00pm. Sometimes at bars. Sometimes at home. Sometimes in groups. Sometimes alone.

No. I have to wake up in the dark to try and catch the game before I make it to work. Sure I can try to do a “media blackout,” but honestly the stress of somehow finding out the score makes the day too fragile and too long. It’s best to just wake up and watch the game.

It doesn’t matter whether the Raiders are good or not. Whether we win or lose. I have been waking up for 16 weeks from September to December to see where this story goes. The Raiders are one of my favorite stories and I can’t put them down.

November 13, 2019

Since Forgotten

Joy can’t be measured
wracked with shame,
forced on a scale,
waiting for calculation-
slack jawed
dumbstruck
in front of a mirror.

Joy isn't measured.
It arrives in chunks and pieces
and tiny grains of sand,
in celebrations and donuts for dinner,
in football highlights on youtube
after a long day
looking for the moon,
in classroom sing alongs
and shared vulnerability,
in dropped D tuning and sparkling water,
salted cucumbers and chocolate covered pretzels.

Joy won’t be measured.
it appears in spurts and gusts
and hurricanes of good news,
in weddings, births and graduations.

Joy is measured only by what is noticed
and named joy-
by the mindfulness awareness
that fading clouds
are not so distant relatives
of tears and oceans,
and the perpetual cycles
you learned to name
but have since forgotten.