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Cal Freeman

with Barry Sanders, Pluto, and Persephone

The Fate of Persephone by Walter Crane

My sister holds her dead dog’s leash. Her hands grip the braided pink fabric palely. She flicks the light end unconsciously; the heavy end with the steel collar clip hangs from her right hand like an anchor.

“It’s gonna be a hard day,” she says.

“Every white-knuckled day is hard,” I almost tell her.

How tone-deaf, these thoughts. I don’t think the dog ever recognized or remembered me, growling and barking each time I approached her house.

I’m trying to remember if Odysseus’ dog was named Argos or Arcturos as my sister holds her dead dog’s leash.


This morning I woke up to the Muskegon River cloaked in fog, my breath stale from last night’s wine, and I didn’t remember where I was right away. I flipped on the TV to a story about the new Barry Sanders statue outside Ford Field, the entirety of the eight-foot bronze likeness balanced on the right toe to capture his dexterity and elusiveness, how he could evade tacklers even when the opposing defense sniffed out the play.

Barry said it was very lifelike, pointing out how sculptors Ori Amrany and Lou Cella included his trademark fingerless gloves. Lifelike—not the fingers wrapped around the ovoid sphere but the gloves.

If we are not what we are but what we do, then we are also the tools we employ in the doing, I think.

How did you get through, Barry Sanders, when their 5-2 front was assembled? Is it that greatness is impervious to strategy? Are we always only what we used to be?

Or was it pure improvisation, an ineffable gift? Is that why you went about your work so quietly, never spiking the ball, calmly handing it off to the referee after every touchdown?


Last night I dreamed my sister was driving her dog to Bishop Park in my father’s old teal Ford Festiva, a ridiculous car for anyone but especially for my 6’4” father. I’ve always mixed up Argos and Arcturos, but the bright star reflected off the Detroit River. I’ve always mixed up Argos and Arcturos, but the dimwitted dog reflected in the river couldn’t see itself.

Emily, what is the meaning of this dream? That we seek quaint downtowns with peaceful water vistas when the usual spectacles won’t do?

My sister pointed at the star in the water and said, “Pluto.”


The only time I saw Barry Sanders play was Mike Utley’s tragic final game at the Pontiac Silverdome. I was there with my uncle and my father. Utley gave a thumbs-up when they carried him off the field on a stretcher. Spinal fracture. He hasn’t walked since. I was reminded of this watching former coach Wayne Fontes speak of Barry’s humble approach and otherworldly talent.

The putative story of that team is that they galvanized around tragedy and overcame it, winning their division and making the playoffs for the first time since ‘83. Sounds like rah-rah drivel. Sounds like the vicissitudes of family life.


Before I learned about the solar system in school, I associated Pluto solely with the cartoon dog. I Google “facts about Pluto” and read of its disputed planetary status, its failure to clear its orbit. It’s a dwarf or minor-planet, sharing a path with millions of small icy bodies in the Kuiper Belt.

I try to contrast this fact with the way Barry Sanders was able to harness gravity, to hurtle out of the backfield and zig-zag through the secondary until nothing was in front of him.

Maybe only in sports or art do we think of elusiveness as a positive quality. “Elusive” sounds like “Eleusinian,” that set of mysteries and rites, and in this world Pluto is the stern elusive God of Hades, husband of Persephone.


I don’t call her enough; I know my late father would want us to be closer.


They project a still of the statue leaping from its pedestal. As it was in 1991, as it isn’t now, and ever shall be. He said the detail of the fingerless gloves brought him to tears when he first saw it. “It’s puzzling what ends up getting to us and making us cry,” he said.

About the writer:
Cal Freeman’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals including Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, North American Review, The Poetry Review, The Moth, Oxford American, River Styx, and Witness Magazine. Her has been anthologized in The Poet’s Quest for God (Eyewear 2016), RESPECT: The Poetry of Detroit Music (Michigan State University Press 2020), I Wanna Be Loved By You: Poems On Marilyn Monroe (Milk & Cake Press 2021), Of Rust and Glass (Volume II) and What Things Cost: An Anthology for the People (University Press Kentucky 2022). Freeman is a recipient of the Devine Poetry Fellowship (judged by Terrance Hayes), winner of Passages North‘s Neutrino Prize, and a finalist for the River Styx International Poetry Prize. He teaches at Oakland University and serves as Writer-In-Residence with InsideOut Literary Arts Detroit.

About The Barry Sanders Statue:
The Detroit Free Press article by Kylie Martin: “Barry Sanders statue shows Detroit Lions great in middle of one of his iconic runs.”

Image: The Fate of Persephone by Walter Crane (1845-1915). Oil and tempera on canvas. 48.2 x 105.1 inches. 1877. Public domain.

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