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Shoot Lists, Not Drugs, Or, The Great List Rapture

Natalie Diaz on Sports & Poetry
A Grocery List

 

The following is the second blog post for Natalie Diaz’s Basketball/Sports Blog series.


This is not the blog I planned on writing this time around, but how could I not be carried away by the Great Depressing List Fad of 2013, or judging by the myriad commentary and speculation and prediction on Facebook, what we might as well call The Great List Rapture: Everyone got put on the list, but I was left out.

I cannot lie: I prefer sports brackets to poetry lists. They actually mean something. They mean this team won more. They mean this team put more baskets in the buckets more times than that team did. They mean this team, if they play as they have been known to play, has a better chance of winning over all those teams listed below this team. They mean this team has LeBron James and that team doesn’t. But a list of best poets?

 

List of ways a list of best poets is like a grocery list:

 

1.     You write down all the things you are most likely to eat

2.     because you’ve already eaten them,

3.     and you liked the way they tasted.

4.     It’s all a matter of taste.

5.     You add something to the list because the person you are sleeping with likes it.

6.     Both lists, the grocery list and the “best poets” list, will make you cry when you imagine all of the slobberingly delicious, fat-shiny, sugar-thick, chicharones-sharp, stomach-thundering, lip-sucking wonderment that you are forgetting or leaving out or ignoring because you haven’t tried them, they slipped your mind, or you’re using WIC coupons this time so you’re relegated to a certain part of the store, etc.

 

Since this is the season of lists, I’ve made a list of my own. The top 15 basketball players of all the kingdom and god-space and world and cul-de-sac of my big head. There were some ties, as you’ll see.

 

1.     Michael Jordan (don’t even think about Kobe).

2.     My cousin Albert, who you don’t know, but who every Mojave who steps on a court is compared to—he was too good. So good, he shot everything—j’s, treys, fade-aways, leaners, runners, bank-shots, hook-shots, no-look-shots. Then he shot the wrong thing and died. He was so good, he even beat himself.  

3.     Tie: Bill Russell / Larry Bird.

4.     Shawn Kemp. Even the drunk Shawn Kemp. Even the sober, chubby Shawn Kemp. In high school, I was featured in a SLAM Magazine issue with Shawn Kemp on the cover, and that’s why he’s my number 4.

5.     Speaking of number 4, Byron Scott, who I liked because I like the number 4—

when you make lists, you can put people on them just because you like them.

6.     Sherman Alexie (between the ages of 24 and 29, when he still had the power of eagles and horses tangled in all that good, long hair).

7.     Magic Johnson. The day he announced he was retiring because he had HIV, I was home from school, faking sick. I was so upset, I called school to talk to my English teacher, Mr. Bill Long, the small, thin, white guy tennis teacher who that summer began taking me into the high school gym at 6 a.m. to teach me how to shoot a jumper. He made me jump and shoot again and again, chanting at me, “Higher. Higher. Lift yourself up and outta here, outta this gym, outta this town.” He seriously said that. And it worked.

8.     Shann Ray Ferch who still rocks a matching warm-up suit—he tied for number 8 with Jess Walters, who said Shann’s matching warm-up suit made him look like he was part of an Eastern European traveling team. But Shann has the edge because he can write and play above the rim. I’ve actually seen Shan write two poems and the first paragraph of a short story all above the rim on a left-handed reverse dunk.

9.     Oscar Robertson.

10.  Quincy Troupe, whose last shot was a dunk from the free throw line, above which he hung in the air for two days, and the rattling of the ball through the chains has been echoing through the streets of Harlem and his knee for twenty-some years. (Note: Quincy Troupe knocked Karl Malone off the list.)

11.  Reggie Miller, ears and funny release and big mouth and all.

12.  Jon Davis, poet and head wizard at the Institute of American Indian Arts, home of the new low-rez MFA program, who once backed down Beyonce on a basketball court in Marfa, Texas. Trivia: Jay-Z has a song called “98 problems and Jon Davis makes 99.”

13.  Wilt the Stilt was in a 3-way tie with Ross Gay and Hakeem Olajuwon. But Ross Gay was in a 3-way tie with Michael McGriff and Tim Seibles. Each of them was in a tie with several other people whose shoes were untied.

14.  Jerry West tied with Matthew Dickman (when Matthew Dickman’s playing time isn’t hampered by fouls). In fact, the National Poetry Association might use the silhouette of Matthew Dickman as their official team logo. There is a heated debate about whether or not he has to wear rec specs.

15.  Scottie Pippen. Because of his nose. When you make lists, you can place people on them because they have stoic-looking native noses. You can even make them native, if you want to.

 

On a serious note, while I was effing around, writing this list of things I “know,” a real writer—a hungry writer, a writer with something to say or question or wonder about, yes, we all know writers like that—was leaned over a table somewhere writing a poem or starting a story, writing something important.

I once saw a t-shirt on the rez that said, “Shoot hoops, not drugs.” And, since all Indians have an uncle or cousin with a failed screen print business, I think maybe I’ll make some of my own shirts that say, “Write poems, not lists.” Or, maybe better yet, “Read poems, not lists.”

Why stop there? Let’s turn one last time to a basketball parable: Somewhere, someone is reading and writing poems, and when you meet her in head-to-head competition, she’ll beat you…because you were too busy worried about lists.


Natalie Diaz was born and raised in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California. She is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe. She was part of the Old Dominion Lady Monarch basketball team that made it to the NCAA Championship game in 1997. After playing professional basketball in Europe and Asia for several years, Diaz returned to Old Dominion and completed a double MFA in poetry and fiction. Her first poetry collection is When My Brother Was an Aztec (Copper Canyon P). She was awarded a 2012 Lannan Literary Fellowship, the 2012 Narrative Prize from Narrative Magazine, and a 2012 Native Arts & Culture Foundation Artist Fellowship. Diaz is part of the IAIA low-residency MFA faculty in Santa Fe and currently lives in Mohave Valley, Arizona, where she directs the Fort Mojave Language Recovery Program, working with the last remaining speakers at Fort Mojave to teach and revitalize the Mojave language. 

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