Paul Hostovsky


Paul Hostovsky is the author of 3 books of poetry, Bending the Notes, Dear Truth, and A Little in Love a Lot. He has won a Pushcart Prize and been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Best of the Net 2008 and 2009. To read more of his work, visit his website:

Clutch Steal

“This John Havlicek, he is Czech,”
says my father who is Czech
and doesn’t speak English all that well
and doesn’t know what a lay-up is, or a free-throw,
or a pick. We are sitting on the paisley couch,
watching the Celtics play the 76ers. It’s 1965.
I hate to tell him, I tell him
as I steal the bag of potato chips from him,
but John Havlicek isn’t Czech.
He’s from Ohio. Born and raised. My father
was visiting someone in Belgium
when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia—
someone who set a pick for him, someone
who saw it all coming—and he escaped
to Paris, then to Lisbon, then to Oslo,
then to New York. Always one step ahead.
He was lucky. He was more than lucky.
He was—what’s the word in English?—
charmed. And he lived. He lived, unlike his own
father, and mother, and brothers and sisters—his entire
team. All lost by the time that nightmare
was over. Twenty years later, he’s sitting with me
on a paisley couch in a house in New Jersey,
watching the Celtics play the 76ers,
the announcer’s impossible English sprinkled
with Havliceks: “Havlicek for two.” “Havlicek
from the corner.” “Havlicek under the boards.”
And then John Havlicek steals the ball—
a clutch steal in the closing seconds of that game,
clinching the Eastern Conference Championship
and immortalizing Havlicek forever. My father
steals the potato chips back, and says, “I am
liking this John Havlicek. He is maybe
from Ohio. But he is Czech. And he is charmed”

My father was older than all the other fathers, and he spoke English with a thick accent, and was functionally sports illiterate. Growing up, I was a little ashamed of him for that. He died when I was a kid, so ever since then the conversation has been a little one-sided. I guess in this poem I wanted to give him the last word.