for Alan Gould
Don't dismiss it all at once
because it's sweat and competition.
There's actually a novel here,
brought by stages to fruition,
complete with matters of morale,
the break point and the breaking back,
the foxy strategies and tactics,
the way each rally must contract
until its options have expired:
the hopeful lob that brings a smash,
the unforced error at the net
when one protagonist grows rash.
Tennis is a metaphor
for courtly battles to the death
fought in front of serried knights
whose fate awaits their hero's breath.
Five-set characters acquire
the depth that's brought them to this court:
the one slim chance they had in childhood,
the injuries last season brought,
the sad romantic ups and downs
via a wild besotted press,
the arguments with coach or parent
adding to a slow distress.
A five-set match is like an epic,
the Iliad or Odyssey;
each game becomes another canto
written on a troubled sea.
Such matches have the amplitude
we look for in a narrative;
they too refuse the certainties
a novelist declines to give.
So next time, Alan, don't switch off.
Attention: Memo from a Friend.
When next you see a five-set match,
be sure to read it end the end.