Some Call It Ballin'

Issue 3: Fall 2014

"...but in joy create for others the house, the poem, the game of athletic beauty" — Dudley Randall

Is Not a Language

by Laura Legge

Illustration by Nicholas Rosal

To my knowledge of letter structure, separation of sound (verbal recording), and word formations English, Spanish, and Russian, and any other Slanguages using Roman letter symbols or others is not a language, due to universal symbolic thievery. –RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ


Play-by-Play & Colour.

  1. You are watching the Knicks without picture.
  2. You are listening.
  3. In the Haggadah, which is about liberation, there is a question: Why is this night different from all other nights?
  4. Consider how many times you’ve heard, when touting some on-court tour de force, someone use the terms monster, animal, brute, fiend, freak, savage.
  5. And think of what other tobacco greens, Gossypium fields and Arabica-reaping estates these words have lived in.
  6. This night is different from all other nights.
  7. You are a blue fiber in the cosmic void. And two voices, in the void, can change its density.
  8. CF: No hocus pocus for Melo tonight, he’s very focused.
  9. In Samuel R. Delaney’s Babel-17, a poet is commissioned to decipher the title tongue, “the most analytically exact language imaginable.”
    1. In Babel-17, there is no you or I.
    2. The Alliance is at war with the Invaders––they are not able, physically, to understand each other. When the poet finally learns every dram and dab of Babel-17, she stops the conflict. Then she corrects the language.
    3. “To build [the language] towards truth,” Delaney writes through the poet’s mouth.
  10. Tonight is January 24, 2014, and Carmelo Anthony is on a circus-enchanted wax banyan to score a career-high 62 points. What phrase, instead, were you expecting?
    1. Bromides: pours in 62, lights up Madison Square Garden, pounds the ball, dominates the paint, is on fire, has the hot hand, takes it to the hole, lives and dies by the outside shot.
    2. MB and CF: spirited basketball, master blaster, contagious, outrageous, uncanny leaping ability, offensive extravaganza, feast on the court, matador D.
  11. Bromide is found in all regular seawater. We expect a salt tingle when we submerge.
  12. Potassium bromide was once used as a sedative. It was made illegal because of chronic toxicity.
  13. In Battlestar Galactica, Brother Cavil says, “I want to see gamma rays! I want to hear X-rays! And I want to smell dark matter!”
  14. Tonight, which is different from all other nights, you say, “I want to hear a pump fake!”
  15. In the dark, with your eyes closed, you are led by two original voices into a soundscape. Put your feet on the hardwood––this place is as real as Madison Square Garden. Only here, your mind styles the sinews between him and him and him and him and you.
  16. CF gives you reckless abandon and with it you build Shumpert’s flight pattern from torn-away tearaways to blind pass to quicksilver hacienda in the rafters, which are now made of children’s dreamy handwriting.
  17. With vacillating pace you find a sick, shivering hare in a cypress woodlot shy of the visiting team’s bench, and after nursing it with honey you listen to its enormous heartbeat. You hand the rabbit to Prigioni, who hammers a tiny cedar rostrum and puts it on top of Spike Lee’s ushanka hat, and then shrinks to the size of a bow tie and lets the rabbit wear him.
  18. This science-fiction world does not have androids, artificial phenomena, mirrored people, antimatter, or galactic cannibals.
  19. This world does have culture, and politics, and social organisms. Or it will, once your mind starts to need them.
  20. In Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler writes, “There is no end/To what a living world/Will demand of you.”
  21. Tonight, you will get comfortable again with having demands made of you.
  22. MB throws heroics into the mistral of Melo’s artistry.
    1. Where does that samara float?
    2. And when the harvest baby-hairs its way through the earth––which could happen tonight, or this second, when you learn you can manipulate time––what tools will you use to tend it?
  23. Sowing seeds without gloves on, you will find your hands covered in dirt.
  24. In your soundscape, there are no taps. You will have to imagine the aural sensation of water.
  25. What is the sound of water? This is different from the question: How does water sound? To answer the latter we naturally imagine the liquid in one of its forms––ocean wave, cascade, river, tap, shower. Crashing, rushing, trickling, running, dripping.
  26. If there is no end to what a living world will demand of you, remember, “the limits of [our] language mean the limits of [our] world.”
  27. When did Wittgenstein show up? The dude is courtside wearing a Cody Zeller jersey and trying to eat those little soggy lobster shrimp rolls they sell in chlorine-bleached napkins.
  28. CF: The right idea, just too much air on that one.
  29. You can hear the crowd booing. Maybe the ball cleared the rim. Or maybe it grew elliptical wings and goshawked into an LED ad for an upstate window-replacement company.
  30. Think of all the breaks in a basketball game.
  31. Ruptures between quarters. Between halves. Ruptures between Udrih double dribbling and D’Antoni moustaching the referee and the stadium speakers subwoofing the intro bars of “Shutterbugg.”
  32. You usually mortar these gaps by talking to a loved one, or opening a new tab in your browser, or going to the kitchen to pour lemon soda
  33. Tonight you will listen to the white space between fragments.
  34. Because only when you are aware of the rupture can you revise your experience of it.
  35. Accepting the Nobel Prize, Toni Morrison told a parable about an old blind woman being asked by a group of puckish children if the bird they’re holding is dead or alive.
    1. To the children the blind woman says, “I don’t know whether the bird you are holding is dead or alive, but what I do know is that it is in your hands.”
    2. After that, she commits to silence. Her silence ruptures the rhythms of living these children, with their bruises and fescue stains and barbecue hearts on felt sarks, have learned to anticipate.
    3. In Renaissance occultism, the bird herself is said to speak the langue verte, a dialect both clandestine and perfect.
    4. Similarly, in the twelfth century Farid al-Din Attar wrote a mystical poem of almost five thousand verses about the beatific language of birds. In Mantiq at-tair the birds’ voices yield a single silent tone:
                They ask (but inwardly; they make no sound)
                The meaning of these mysteries that confound
                Their puzzled ignorance––how is it true
                That ‘we’ is not distinguished here from ‘you’?
  36. The Knicks have reached halftime. On League Pass, which you are watching, this means twenty minutes of dead air.
  37. It has to do with copyrights.
  38. From MB, this break might be a superb opportunity for reflection. From CF, this might be a lavish lagniappe.
  39. They have warmed the language, as athletic muscle, for you.
  40. Let’s start with the object. What is a basketball?
  41. You can think of how the leather blanches when bared to street weather, or how the weight of the orb wavers based on how much air is inside. How the hands that have touched the object change its surface pebbling, over time evening the grit until that peculiar planet is smooth and unusable.
  42. Space Jam has the image of Barkley, Bradley, LJ, Bogues, and Ewing touching the ball to get their alien-thieved power back.
  43. The object burns amber and glory bright. Notice how the colour changes as that stolen power travels again through the surface.
  44. Only when you can taste the word “basketball”––calcined and tinny and blistering with blood electricity––can you begin to think about giving name to the nameless display surrounding it.
  45. If the game were called courtball or blockball or handleball it wouldn’t just alter the way you talk about it. It would spur you to build a new world, however slight the difference, in which to talk about it.
  46. Coming out of halftime there is a short sideline interview with Darrell Walker. In a moth-on-lamplight ochre suit, he says, “Carmelo was in a real quiet mood today when he came in the locker room.”
  47. This statement does not confuse us. No one needs to explain how quiet coheres to Melo’s sublime execution. And yet, the word has a roster of distinct personalities.
    1. The quiet genius nametag has been fixed on the work shirts of many makers. Murasaki Shikibu, Anton Chekhov, Mesut Özil, Judit Polgár, Hypatia, Vincent van Gogh, Pavel Florensky, Maya Deren, Émilie du Châtelet, Juana Inés de la Cruz.
    2. Gucci Mane: “And my money talk for me, ‘cause I be being quiet.”
    3. One vital trait of an anechoic chamber, or a “quiet room,” is the complete absence of echoes.
    4. In basketball, a star can have a “quiet night.” His night is quiet in that the fan’s experience of him has, for those few hours, been noticeably muted. He misses shots, or he doesn’t take them. On defense he is a phantom. He blurs back to the bench in the smoke smother of defeat.
    5. Chestnut in European football commentary: We’ve gone quiet. By which is meant the team is underachieving. Arsenal fans sometimes taunt, “It’s all gone quiet over there/Yes, it’s all gone quiet over there!”
  48. If we were asked to define it, could we plane the space and time dimensions of quiet into ordinary language? In the Star Trek: TOS episode “A Taste of Armageddon,” Kirk says, “Sometimes a feeling is all we humans have to go on.”
  49. And quiet carries a less marked cargo than, say, beast, which is commonly used on NBA broadcasts.
  50. Tonight you are listening to two men who choose their words, and you are attending, dynamically, to those choices.


  1. Language is a gorgeous morphon that lives, loyally, on your and every other planet.
  2. Think of how, in one whole-minded half, the ether of Madison Square Garden began to breathe and expand.
  3. In his hand-laundered linen, Gandhi said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words.” This was in conversation with the teachings of an earlier Swami, Vivekananda, because no step into the kinetic whirlwind of perception is taken alone.
  4. Carmelo Anthony listened to Muhammad Ali’s famous How Great I Am speech, which was of course a poem, in the locker room before his otherworldly game.
  5. Tonight you cut off the light in your bedroom and were in bed before the room got dark.

LAURA LEGGE is a writer in Toronto. Her work has most recently appeared in WitnessNewfound, and The New Quarterly, and she was a finalist for the 2014 CBC Short Story Prize.