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  • John M. Campbell

A Prince of the Court

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

This poem is a tribute to Vince Daquag, a tennis player I knew with a ferocious forehand and an ebullient disposition. He was a much-beloved middle-school teacher who died of a heart attack in his early thirties, leaving behind a young wife and infant. I presented a copy of this poem to his widow to celebrate the part of Vince's life I shared, though it seemed a wholly inadequate token when compared to the loss she endured.

A Prince of the Court

The summer I remember best

Of my career in sport

Was spent at Vince Dacuag’s behest

Upon the tennis court.

He picked me as his partner for

The tennis league that season.

Perhaps he liked my service, or

Some other random reason.

Now Vincent was a kindly gent,

A man of moderation,

But on the court, he underwent

A lethal transformation.

He hit his forehand flat and hard

With limitless ferocity.

Some say the friction left it charred

The ball had such velocity.

And some there are who saw him play

Compared it to a howitzer.

Of such remarks I’d only say

I would not disavow it, sir!

I’ve seen grown men break out in sweat

When staring down its barrel.

To face Vince from across the net

Could place your life in peril.

The greatest joy Vince ever got—

To him, what really mattered—

Was risking games for that one shot

That left opponents scattered.

And Vincent was no tiny thing.

His girth was more than jolly,

It made the children laugh and sing

To see him serve and volley.

A drop shot would seem guaranteed

To win the point, and does—

Until he shows a burst of speed

And has you eating fuzz.

We cruised through matches left and right.

In every case, we won.

We played with ease, and things looked bright

Until the final one.

On playoff day, we met the pair

We’d earned the right to face.

With knobby knees and wispy hair

They looked quite out of place.

They liked their rackets jumbo-sized.

They wore the latest shoes.

Their matching shirts were colorized

In psychedelic hues.

We started warmups straightaway.

Vince groaned to see their game.

He realized we drew to play

The Dinker’s Hall of Fame.

The players Vince preferred to face

Were players who were hitters.

He liked returning back their pace

Instead of swatting sitters.

The worst opponents you will find

Are those who chop and dink.

Their game’s to get inside your mind

And make you stop and think.

They tantalize with goofy spin

And angles so acute

Their shots just flutter, barely in,

With you left in pursuit.

It looked to be a classic bout:

A battle for the ages.

Our deadly mix of speed and clout

Against the seasoned sages.

They proved they were as cool as ice;

Their shots were automatic.

They must have learned to slice and dice

From some old Vegematic.

Vince pounced on every ball like prey

And kept up the attack.

And every ball he sent their way

Somehow came limping back.

He’d crush it with intent to kill.

They’d dink it back, and Vince

Would crack it even harder still—

And plant it in the fence.

It’s not like I was error free—

I made mistakes, you bet.

There was a floater ball, or three,

I smashed into the net,

Or wide, or long, but rarely in.

We could not stabilize,

And we were losing discipline

In losing to these guys.

For every winning shot that day

Were many more that sucked.

So they just kept the ball in play

And let us self-destruct.

They won the final point, and then

It mercifully was done.

We shook their hands, and Vincent’s grin

Was just like when we won.

They wished they had his forehand gun.

They so admired its speed.

They’d never faced a better one—

His grin said Vince agreed.

You play all out and strive for more

And laugh despite the strife.

His tennis was a metaphor

For how Vince lived his life.

With deep affection.

John M. Campbell

August 2001

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