March, the month of college basketball's annual NCAA tournament (and preceding Poetry Month), gives me an opportunity to begin honoring predecessors in this column. Edward Hirsch's justly celebrated poem "Fast Break" captures and epitomizes the speed and brilliance of an inspired moment when things go right -- in the rhythms of a sport or in the charmed exertions of sentences and lines.
Hirsch's single long sentence courses sure-footedly to its ultimate goal: the noun "net." The movement through the couplets, unfettered and purposeful, demonstrates what it describes: the grace of improvisation working through a plan. The elegiac dedication in the subtitle emphasizes charges of mortality in certain phrases -- above all in the past tense of "loved."
In Memory of Dennis Turner, 1946-1984
A hook shot kisses the rim and
hangs there, helplessly, but doesn't drop,
and for once our gangly starting center
boxes out his man and times his jump
perfectly, gathering the orange leather
from the air like a cherished possession
and spinning around to throw a strike
to the outlet who is already shoveling
an underhand pass toward the other guard
scissoring past a flat-footed defender
who looks stunned and nailed to the floor