Why does Updike in "Ex-Basketball Player" write that Flick's "hands were like wild birds"?

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That particular line comes from stanza three of the poem. It is the stanza that describes how amazing Flick Webb was at playing basketball when he was in high school. We are given some really specific evidence of his court prowess when we are told that he scored 390 points in a single season. It is still a county record and seeing him score more than 30 points per game must have been a fairly standard occurrence. Those are amazing facts; however, they are still dry and analytical facts. Part of what good poetry does is create vivid imagery in the minds of the readers. Telling us that Flick was good at basketball and scored lots of points isn't an image that we can really grab hold of with our imaginations. The narrator of the poem wants to drive home exactly how good, quick, and nimble Flick and his hands really were, so he tells readers that Flick's "hands were like wild birds." There are a lot of different kinds of wild birds, but I think most readers simultaneously interpret "wild" in two ways. Wild means not domesticated, and wild also means crazy and energetic. Knowing that Flick's hands were like a wild bird creates an image of a bird flitting fast and furiously from branch to branch in a tree or rapidly changing directions in the air. Often, those kinds of motions happen so quickly that the bird and its body parts appear as a slight blur as the human eye attempts to track the moving bird. Flick's hands are similarly quick on the court, and that gives him a huge advantage in ball control and defense against his opponents.

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In the third stanza of "Ex-Basketball Player," by John Updike, the poet uses the simile, "His hands were like wild birds" to convey the incredible swiftness Flick Webb had when he played basketball.  While conveying the speed and nervous energy that Flick has possessed, Updike's poetic image is in sharp contrast to the next line that describes the banal acitivites now of Flick's hands:

He never learned a trade, he just sells gas,/Checks oil, and changes flats....

Having graduated, John does no other than simple, monotonous activities with this hands;  he "just sells gas," and he "Checks oil, and changes flats."  These contrasting images of Flick's hands exemplify the controlling metaphor of the poem: The once great, stellar player on the basketball team is no longer free and unique;he merely engages in banal and trivial activities:  he pumps gas and checks the oil and changes tires.  No longer do crowds shout for him, no longer do they applaud.

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