The Name of This Game, by Tom Lombardo
Lombardo’s poems will make you forget what you think you know about football, charging from narrative as gritty as an off-tackle play, to mesmerizing deconstructions of medical text chapters on concussion, a delicate dance-dream in which the mind struggles to surface from repetitive trauma.
“These hard-hitting poems get about as close to the violence of football as language can.
They are explosive, yet controlled, and they pack a focused punch. They charge at the reader with all the muscle and finesse of star fullback. In The Name of This Game, Tom Lombardo displays a fine and winning gift.” –David Bottoms, author, We Almost Disappear
Baranski feathers the football into my hands.
I tuck it and follow Zangrillo, the pulling guard.
He blocks the charging defensive tackle,
and I cut upfield through a space as wide
as one breath. I’m about to break clear
when the middle linebacker, unblocked,
hunting thunder, cracks his helmet
through my jaw, lifting my feet off the ground.
I feel the swish of velvet on my cheeks,
hear water dripping into a galvanized bucket,
taste its cold metal.
When I smell ammonium hydrate,
I see a flash of white, then red and green.
On the bench. Why is coach yelling at me?
He doesn’t know my name? I look down.
Two ants crawl on one blade of grass.
Coach lifts my chin and curses
when I tell him I won’t kill the ants,
then he walks off barking
for Bronco Nagurski to punch my ticket
for the homecoming concert where B.B. King
slaps at my head with Lucille during
sex with Pink I fall out of bed
bang my head on the slate lights out
Though Tom Lombardo’s The Name of This Game is written in a startlingly tough contemporary American vernacular, there are moments, in tone, at least, that harken back to the Heroic Age of the ancient Greeks. This book lured me in with the opening 35-word poem and left me, at the end of the collection, almost as emotionally drained as I was after the graphic death of Hector in Homer’s epic poem The Iliad. Lombardo is as adept at divining poetry from the text Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, which provides the book’s unifying motif, as he is from the ostensibly unpoetic world of football. The name of this game is to hurt someone reads the final line of the poem Going off Tackle, a line screamed out by the speaker’s coach. Tom Lombardo shines a powerful light on the macho culture of football. But at the core of this sequence is a vulnerability that ranges from fear to remorse, and even sorrow. This book will break your heart. It will break your bones. –Cathy Smith Bowers, author, The Collected Poems of Cathy Smith Bowers (Press 53)