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Or, Serve, Return, Rally

The world eyes now each young Adonis,
Achilles or Endymion
That vies to triumph in the tennis
On centre court at Wimbledon.
White spotless shorts and skirts are gleaming;
On Henman Hill the crowds are teeming
To view the game of skill and nerve:
The hundred-mile-an-hour serve,
Forehand, backhand, return and rally,
Lobs, slices, double-faults and aces
To put the players through their paces,
As points and sets mount on the tally:
The challenge, and the awful doubt—
Was the ball in? Or was it out?

To rhyme on people’s names is tacky
But hard to shun, when you can switch
From Williams v. Wozniacki
To Federer v. Djokovic.
Writing free verse would be a let-down
Like playing tennis with the net down.
(I stole that line from Robert Frost.)
Played badly, all the tension’s lost;
Played well, and golf has nothing on it.
To one enraptured as I am,
A point can be an epigram,
Or make an interweaving sonnet
Where human talent awes and shines
Enclosed in arbitrary lines.

My talent? No, I wholly lack it;
I drove my tutors to despair.
I don’t know how to wield a racquet
Or throw a ball into the air.
My mother thought my imperfection
Might be improved by close direction.
She schooled me in my stance and pose,
I swung—and hit my mother’s nose.
(It’s quite the painful family story.)
And from that day, I’ve had no thought
Of shining on a tennis court.
Let others dream of sporting glory,
Trophies, applauding crowds. I dream.
Of front-row strawberries and cream.

First published in Cheval 11 (Parthian Books, Wales)