A Poem by Kirby Olson: 1453 and All That

In my other life, I study the Eastern Mediterranean from the 5th to 10th century AD mostly as a field archaeologist. This means that I think about Constantinople from time to time, and 1453 invariably looms large in my professional consciousness. 

I also spent a good bit of time in my 20s, while studying the “Greek East,” playing pickup basketball at any of the various gyms around the Ohio State University campus. 

Maybe that’s why Kirby Olson’s contribution to NDQ 87.1/2 resonated with me. Do check it out below.

These days are particularly challenging for many cultural institutions, publishers, and little magazines. If you can, consider buying a book from a small presssubscribing to a literary journal, or otherwise supporting the arts. 

If you’d like to read the rest of this issue of North Dakota Quarterlyyou can download it here for free. There’s no catch. You can also read more from this issue by clicking here

1453 and All That

The Ottoman Turks attacked Constantinople.
They fired two-ton boulders over a mile
with a cannon built by a Hungarian engineer.
The sixty-foot high walls buckled as
a half-million Turks rained arrows
into the last citadel of Eastern Orthodoxy.

We play four-on-four in a small gym.
It hurts, but I join the defense.
Under the basket, swift passes occur.
I touch the ball and knock it loose.
We get several new chances, and
then Ben hits a three, a long bomb for the win.

Constantinople fell when a defender
left the gate open after a sortie.
It was the Circus Gate.
Turks piled in and the pillaging began.
Three days of belligerence
after which the city lay in ruins.

We left the best shooter open too often.
He only needs a half-second and it’s in.
The three-point line is where he lives.
Squeaking sneakers, as all hustle for the rebound,
but the parabolic arc is sure,
and the swift swish signals our defeat.


Kirby Olson is the author of a book of poems titled Christmas at Rockefeller Center, published by WordTech Editions in 2015. His poems have appeared in Poetry East, Partisan Review, South Dakota Review, and many others. He is also a professor at SUNY Delhi in the western Catskills. 

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