by Roger Bonair-Agard

We knew he was coming
he took his good and ready time
sauntered to the wicket
in the crispest flannels
a saga-boy lean to the walk

so man-beautiful women wept
openly before him so savage
with the bat bowlers hung
their heads unabashed
when he was on the go

swaggered across the grounds
to what might be a slow hand
clap if he was at home or a hush
if he was to explode
on a foreign theater

arms windmilling slowly as he came
in his desire to dominate overwhelming

Viv taught us how to walk
shoulders drawn back and always
smiling like he knew the secret
meaning of a song everyone
was humming

We learned to practice
our strokes and disdain even
to look at the flight of the ball
because like Viv we knew where
it had gone nowhere
but flung like a rocket
to the boundary

Helmetless even to the most
hostile bowlers we feared
and loved him the way
the village does the dragon-slayer
for the terrible deeds which
he has done and the knowledge
he carried in his armor

that bat we saw flash like a blade
in the sun when he hooked the rising
delivery red leather of the ball
trailing off a swath of blood
in its wake

and so we learned how not to fear
the crawl through John-John
or the worst areas of La Horqueta
how to fete with the rastafari
in Laventille and how to ask
a tall sister to dance

because we were mimicking Viv
the whole time that steely nerve
the hawkish eye that keening
ability to root out weakness
and exploit it

learned the way of men
Viv staring a bowler in the eye
from mid-pitch before his innings
began a theatered devastation
of an opponent’s will

we even stood like him
and learned to call out
all our names like the commentators
often did for him so awesome
his aspect as he approached

Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards
we called out our own names
so Roger Anthony Bonair-Agard
coming out to bat Cyril Elliot Smith
entering the cafeteria

Dexter Leslie Barrington coming
down the corridor and we loved
the way our names sounded
in our mouths like that how

we could make ourselves matter
even at our lowest points
like when Charles McIntosh died
or Richard Drayton lost his leg

Viv knew how to look good
returning to the pavilion
when he had made 291 at Lord’s
or a duck the ultimate knightly code

how to carve dignity
out of the nothing
of which we sometimes
believed we were made

Published on July 1, 2020

First published at Harvard Review Online January 20, 2011.