The Only Place to Be

It’s only cold
in the haunches of winter
when you don’t give
every last tear, breath,
ounce of self-determination
and trust on the ice.

It’s only too late
in the minutes before the buzzer
when the numbers on display
don’t stand in your favor.

You want to believe
the trophy can still be
yours for the embracing,
eyes flit across
the blue line
all bluffing.

Their best right wing against
your best center
mere seconds matter,
when blinking or sneezing
can snatch underdog dreams
and the legendary
in one swipe.

So you tame gravity
light as a whisper
strong as a sword,
charge forward and send
their goal keeper into acrobatics
the crowd into hysterics.

Your sure thing
is suddenly less sure
and after acute mourning tires
and you can breathe again,
your teammates still have you
in their brotherly hearth
where tears of defeat,
not exhaustion, fall
for as long and as much
as they must.

— yiqi 30 August 2022 1:39 am


This poem came to me after I completed some freelance work that allowed me to watch a documentary from this filmmaker about a sport that is operationally very similar to futbol: many bodies moving very swiftly across a field of play wherein the objective is to send the game-mechanism into the other team’s net.  I love me a good sports inspirational and prefer fiction to nonfiction (with the exception of a compelling biopic), but upon finishing this documentary that follows specific players from two high school boys hockey teams in the North Star State, I’d forgotten how shamelessly formulaic fiction sports films tend to be (because they must, apparently).

My freelance work has exposed me to a cornucopia of feature films and documentaries covering a sizable breadth of artistic choices, subject matter, and languages.  As humbling, illuminating or infuriating as some of the nonfiction experiences have been, “forcing” me to learn about things I never knew existed or ever had a reason to research, this audiovisual account has taught me something related to my contemplations from earlier in the summer about the way men talk to each other.

In addition to being a very good sports inspirational (zero love-interest drama, no over-the-top tension), it made me realize why team sports are pushed on young boys so much.  The obvious benefits on the development of young men consist of physical and mental well-being, psychological lessons in forming boundaries, building trust and respect for peers, and how to parse the crux from the cacophony of criticism.*  I was more intrigued, though, by the nuanced effects that competitive group-play has on an adolescent male’s perception of his self vs the world and his self in the world.

Putting the hazing and other negative peer-pressure considerations aside, team sports are among the few societally sanctioned ways in which young men can express a range of feelings.  They can be upset and vulnerable with their teammates, cry and break stuff, without being ostracized.  Outside of sports (and maybe some other group activity like band/orchestra and debate team), a high school junior who is mad he failed at anything is less likely to receive the same kind of support for not “winning.”  If he has the right social group, then ideally he wouldn’t need to compete in athletic activities to celebrate, be impressionable or self-loathe (just for a couple days) in a healthy manner and empathetic environment….to not be made fun of for disappointing someone.

I haven’t written about the sport featured in this documentary as often as I have blogged about football, basketball, and baseball, even though I’ll watch it pretty much any time it’s on TV (and if whatever is on TCM doesn’t interest me).  I’ve been to an actual hockey game too.  It was in February of 2019: the Gwinnett Gladiators played the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.  The Gladiators scored three times; I stayed until there were three minutes left cause I wanted to beat the post-game get-out-of-the-parking-lot traffic.  It’s clear from the televised and cinematic aesthetic that hockey skating is fast, but until I saw it in person, I could not grasp fully just how quickly the players move across that ice.


* I wonder if the extent to which team sports is rewarding depends on how much a person lives in their bodies vs their heads.  A body-oriented person would respond to the experiential aspect of athletic interaction; they’d respond to role-playing games as well.  A head-oriented person would respond more to a very well-crafted and researched essay…or a TedTalk.  A person who lives in both might prefer fencing, any of the martial arts, pilates, or dance.  A person who lives in neither would just have to be motivated sufficiently to join in anywhere doing anything to increase that heartbeat.

Pic creds: Maurice DT @mauricemaaktfotos, unsplash; and yours truly

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