Image: "Alternate Olympics 2012 Logo"
“This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would […]”
Danny Boyle’s artificial rain cloud has given the rest of the troposphere an idea or two, and our late-arriving British summer is being edged aside by short showers which drum down on the Copper Box, a matchbox-shaped red-brown building on the south edge of the Olympic Park. As poet and Trappist monk Thomas Merton knew, the rain is a rumormonger, “all the speech pouring down.” We’ve experienced enough Wimbledons on this island to know “it will talk as long as it wants, this rain.” We’re used to listening.
Right now, this rain is talking about events inside the Copper Box, where Iceland’s men’s Handball team (silver medallists in Beijing) has just scored against Argentina. It’s one of those spectacular, made-for-replay Olympic moments where, without warning, something extraordinary happens. #18, Robert Gunnarsson darts into the inner D, the area patrolled by the goalkeeper. A team-mate’s wayward lobbed pass drifts beyond the heads of two Argentine defenders, bobbles awkwardly. Diving forward, at full stretch, headed away from the goal, level to the floor, Gunnarsson grasps the ball and flings it behind him, back over his shoulder, past the helpless, unsighted ’keeper, into the bottom corner of the net. No one saw it coming, least of all the Argentinians, and that’s why the rain’s telling it to the rooftops. Game on.
I’m certain John Keats would have been an Olympian, if only Dr. William Penny Brookes or Pierre de Coubertin had been around during his short lifetime to institute the “Olympian Games” or found the International Olympic Committee. I’d like to think Keats would have played handball: boxing, cricket, and fencing were his sports, but surely only because handball didn’t exist in organised form in his day (the first written rules date to 1906). Like the sports he played, handball relies on getting your hand to do something your mind can scarcely visualise — a flick of the wrist, a twist of the thumb, an adjustment of the fingers and a goal’s been scored, or stopped, a pass made or the crescendo of a forward move halted.
In the fragmentary “This Living Hand,” one of Keats’ last poems, he imagines his hand, “cold / and in the icy silence of the tomb,” haunting the poem’s recipient. In a chilling, necromantic bargain, Keats hopes to terrify whoever reads the poem so much that they’ll wish to swap places,...read more