It would have to be a bird, stilled
on a corner of the Athlone stadium,
the balletic curves swerving like lines
of flight above the flat Cape.
Or maybe it’s God
who is the real spectator,
whom we approximate through the shot
during the game when suddenly
the camera withdraws itself, zooms
right out and we see
the field from directly above in one sweep.
Then the bodies lose their definition,
the uniforms their colours and we are left
only with the motion as though
of some galvanised painting
composed of lines of flight.
In it, we see some larger creature,
the always-moving animal that is the game,
showing its best face to whoever is watching
from the heavens.
We love this,
not the names on the shirts
nor their brief faces,
44 legs making their singular beauty on the grass,
the patterns of bodies like some dance
of ceaseless and organic beauty, or the way
mathematics becomes a kind of poetry
when you look at it closely enough,
a geometry running
through all the bodies watching, following,
touching the ball.
Gabeba Baderoon used to watch John Barnes cause tears to fall from grown-ups’ eyes, as a fan of Liverpool, and lived next-door to the Stephanians’ coach, so kept her local loyalties entirely in the neighbourhood. She writes poetry on non-football subjects occasionally – she is the author of A hundred silences and The Dream in the Next Body.
A Field in Lyon
(For Marc-Vivien Foe)
The player warrior
Strides on the moon’s arc
Midfield in a sphere of death
Pitching his solitary shot
Past paramedics and country.
In the heart of a field in Lyon
There fell an indomitable lion.
And that patch of Gallic green
Ruddied under by Ikolo blood
Is forever Cameroon.
*Marc-Vivien Foe was a midfielder for The Indomitable Lions, the national team of Cameroon. He collapsed and died during an international football match in Lyon, France, on June 26, 2003.
Molara Wood is a Nigerian writer who lives and works in London – she was there when Kanu ran the city. A freelance journalist, essayist and occasional poet, she writes a regular Arts column in the Guardian on Sunday, Lagos.
Photograph: Buyaphi Mdledle
These poems first appeared in Chimurenga 10: Futbol, Politricks & Ostentatious Cripples (December 2006). Order a print or PDF copy at our online store.