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Tony Gloeggler: Autistic Basketball

You are following Jesse

through a new-to-you part

of his neighborhood. You ask

if he knows where he’s going,

how far, and he says straight

You ask again, he points ahead. 

You sat at the morning table 

listing activities on the page

he titled Saturday September

15  He chose basketball instead 

of the Lake Champlain ferry.

He walks with his two hands

in front of him, holding the ball

like a mechanical waiter

balancing a tray. No dribbling 

between his legs, behind his back, 

no stutter stepping or head faking,

no flipping it back and forth

between you and him, no racing

across the court, a pass floating

in the air, catching you in stride

as you rise with the memory

of your first taste of schoolyard

grace and lay it softly against 

the backboard so the ball settles 

in the net’s momentary embrace. 


Basketball with Jesse means 

taking turns for a certain number 

of shots. You negotiate, he agrees

reluctantly to 10. You haven’t touched 

any kind of ball in 7 years: kidney 

disease, open heart surgery, hernia

strangulation, dialysis, and finally

the kidney transplant. You run 

out of breath trotting a half block

to catch your morning bus, cling

to a pole as it drives, afraid 

you’ll fall across the aisle 

as it turns onto the service 

road. You walk slowly, watch 

where your feet land. You stand 

at the foul line. Jesse’s a step 

and a half in front of you. 

He shoots first with a stiff, over 

the head, Jack Sikma-like release 

that banks in. You’re next, still 

trying to imitate Earl The Pearl

of the long gone Baltimore Bullets. 

He counts the shots down, only 

smiles when he gets to shout 

10 so he can go home, sit 

at the table, cross basketball 

off his list, move on to McKee’s:

apple juice with ice, chicken 

fingers, French fries, extra hot.

Jesse’s 10 for 10. You’re 1 for 10 

with an air ball. He doesn’t care. 

You have to tell yourself not to.

Copyright 2023 Tony Gloeggler. First published in Alongside We Travel: Contemporary Poets On Autism

Tony Gloeggler’s poetry collections include What Kind of Man (NYQ Books, 2020). He is a lifelong New Yorker.

Tony Gloeggler

3 comments on “Tony Gloeggler: Autistic Basketball

  1. Robbi Nester
    May 24, 2023

    Wonderful storytelling.


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This entry was posted on May 24, 2023 by in Health and Nutrition, Poetry and tagged , , , .

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