Issue 126, Spring 1993
Baseball is the purest sport, meaning
ballparks out in the heartland, mixing
fork balls and slurves, tapping
slow choppers in a spring rain.
Winter locked us out, covering
the infield in aphasic snow, leaving
the bases sticking out like square tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the left field fence
like a shower of beer; we stopped in the entry tunnel,
and walked out in sunlight, into the bleachers,
and drank slowly, and studied the lineups.
“Batting third and playing right field, Ike Deutsch.”
And when we were children, over at the neighbors’,
my friend swung and accidentally hit me in the head.
And he was frightened. He said, Mary,
are you all right? And down I went
as if my head were a mountain, my body the sea.
I bled much of the night, and went home in the morning.
What are the hits that matter, what logic of numbers
rises from this dusty diamond? Listen, man,
you cannot say for sure whether it’s ball or strike
when the catcher’s in the way, and the bat swings,
and the full house is yelling, the temperature over 100,
and the corners of home plate obscured. Only
there is intelligence behind this steel mask,
(look into the eyes behind this steel mask),
and you can see something different from either
the pitcher’s face leaning forward to read the signs
or the seams of the ball as it breaks away from you.
Step out of the box and pick up a handful of dust.
Where have you gone Joe
Our nation turns
Its lonely eyes to you.
“You took me to the stadium first a year ago;
you said I was going to be an all-star.
—Yet when we came back, late, from behind the bleachers,
your hands dirty and your pants wet, I would not
talk, my skirt torn, I was neither
home nor away, and I saw nothing,
looking into the middle of the dash, but darkness.”
Old Abdullah, famous oddsmaker,
didn’t exist, nevertheless
is regarded as the best in the business
of wicked picks on points. Here, he said,
is your card, a 1951 Ralph Branca,
(Willie Mays was on deck. Remember!).
Here is the kissing bandit from Baltimore,
the lady of force plays at second.
Here is the man with three fingers, Mordecai Brown,
and here is the midget, and this card,
which is blank, can win you something if you scratch
off the surface. If you don’t find
The Commissioner, you don’t win.
I see bettors milling around the window.
Careful. If you see the one we call Brooklyn,
tell him I’ll bring the results myself.
Tell him to be careful.
under the light smog of a winter dawn,
a subway lumbered into the elevated station, a few
figures got off and started walking, though not many.
Eyes above turned-up collars,hands in pockets,
each of them keeping distance from the next.
Pushed through the turnstiles and past the token booth
where a woman with fingerless gloves looked down
with the clock behind her unreadable under grafitti.
Saw someone I recognized from my neighborhood
and stopped him, saying, “Rudy, we did games together,
do you still buy cheap seats and move up to the boxes
or do you now pay? Want to go again next season?
Or do you no longer think of baseball in the bed of winter?
We could go back to where we dug under the fence,
although now it’s impenetrable with poured concrete!”
I am one of you! You are one of us! You are guilty too!
The chair he leaned forward in was of well-worn leather,
especially the armrests where his elbows went,
when they weren’t stretched out before him on the Formica,
or beckoning the cameraman in black headphones
to come out from behind a camera to answer a question,
the stadium lights reduced into one bright block
tripled in the blue-black glass of the zoom’s outer lens
and the distorted silhouette of his own image included
as he was turned away from the microphone.
From the stands a synesthesia of sound and movement,
the panoply of color in distant stands an imitation
of Seurat one minute, and Pollock the next.
An enormous television screen in center field, a film clip
of a legend sliding slow-motion into second base,
shown three times, each increasingly larger,
until the frame froze on a foot, a base and a mitt.
Which dissolved into a close-up of a woman
walking awkwardly in high heels across the infield
to a microphone placed on the rubber of the mound,
the players nearby at attention, indifferent, at each bag.
Which dissolved into a close-up of a flag out in center
artificially fluttering in the still night air, as if at gunpoint.
And the singer sang the song with an inviolable voice,
and some fans sang, some just mouthed the words
“Osay does that . . . wave” to dirty ears.
And so many gestures from the garden of evening
appearing randomly from billboard to billboard,
under the ballpark lights, in the midst of noise,
the applause peppered with signs and slogans,
as the broadcaster looked out, and held his breath,
before he announced the orders, while looking ill.
“The stands are filled tonight. Yes, filled. Stay tuned.
The ballclub is out of the cellar. Stay tuned. Stay.
It’s a beautiful night for baseball, don’t you think?
I feel like they’re going to change their luck, don’t you?”
Anybody still left in his or her right mind
knows we’re all going down the chute, n’est-ce pas?
The airplanes circling La Guardia.
“That too, coming from the north?”
Traffic over traffic.
“It’s not like it was. It wasn’t like this. Do you
checkers to the ballpark, the over and under.
“You remember Abdullah; there’s nothing he wouldn’t —”
Meanwhile the television over the bar,
and the radio speakers flanking the door.
“Maybe we should bag it. Like yesterday.
Give tomorrow a fair chance.”
Aspirin at ten.
And if the game is rained out,
we’ll have no reason for going out,
looking out the window and waiting alone for the evening news.
When Charlie got laid off the first of the month, I said—
I s’pose I’d had a few, I said to him in his ear,
THE CONSUMER INDEX ROSE TWO TENTHS OF ONE PERCENT
we have a little to fall back on, plus what I’ve saved.
But I didn’t want to go into that right off, didn’t want him
knowing what I had
as if I’d been stealing. Or hiding it from the sharks.
I couldn’t stand watching him settle into the couch,
day after day so depressed, I thought, with the TV going,
“One Life to Live. Jenny Jones. As the World Turns. Oprah.
The Guiding Light. Geraldo. Sally Jesse Raphael. Donahue.”
Tired of this routine with donuts and beer, I said,
get a life, you ought to be ashamed, you act like you’re retired.
(And him only thirty-one.)
If you don’t like it, he says in that voice of his, you can stuff it.
FIVE-DAY FORECAST CALLS FOR UNSEASONABLY MILD
And then, I can’t help, hun. With that sad face I married.
I keep thinking there’s a chance he’ll get off the couch.
In the beginning I could perk him up with take-out.
(It’s been weeks now. Maybe he should get on The Couch.)
Ever since he got laid off it hasn’t been the same.
You are the enabler, I said to myself.
If you can’t get him out of the house you’ve got to start thinking
of your own preservation.
You didn’t get married to take care of an invalid, did you?
LOCAL NINES MAKE
DEAL MORE DETAILS AT ELEVEN
It’s after six thirty. Got to be going. Say hi to Phil for me.
Same to Bob. Call me if you need anything. I mean it, really.
Okay? Okay, thanks. See ya. Yea. Later.
The avenue is quiet: the deepening whir of a taxi
slightly comforting as it glides to a halt. Here and there,
steam dances out of a manhole and disperses. The drunks are in doorways,
curled up and crooked like tamped out cigarettes.
Even the wide Os in ‘Houston’ and ‘Bowery’ suggest someone
in no hurry to have the sweet fire in his stomach burn out after a swig,
someone with eyes not of pearl, but of vitreous oyster
embedded in lidskin as black and lax as the labia of a stray.
The bell-rope that wakes up the city each day is busted,
the church’s parapets obscured under workmen’s netting.
Have empathy for the recalcitrance of the winter sun
on the other side of the eyebrows of old law tenements.
Have empathy for the old bones still willing to be warmed.
Gulls poked discriminatingly through the landfill
touching down and taking off again and again as if it were too hot
as I drove one weeknight recently through the outskirts
going nowhere in particular with the radio off and window down
thinking about playing catch with my brother years ago
when we could still play pretend games for hours
on an abandoned diamond next to a scrap metal dealer
with rust colored rivulets running under the corrugated
partition into the infield.
The wince and shriek of twisting iron was deafening.
Once we looked inside and saw the purgatorial foreman
in a rubber coat and boots wading through a slush of water and ore
and behind him a crane with a magnetic disk picking up a wreck.
I am one of you
you are one of us
you are guilty too
tra la la la la
under the light smog of a winter dusk
by the ticket booths near the north entrance
Monsieur Claude the merchant man
Senor Sir Cloud sold me two grams of coke
sight unseen, COD, only stepped on twice
he said, walking me toward the downtown local.
The only ignominy is old age,
the body as withering and insignificant
as a camphor ball in the back corner of a closet,
unless you do something about it.
Even if you do something about it.
There. That’s better. And already it’s behind you
with the velocity of a sentence you just said.
I get the distinct feeling we’re all condemned
to lean our elbows on the second floor window sill
waiting for the world’s kettle of water to boil.
0 sure, there are the usual diversions,
the balms, salves and recipes handed down
slightly different from generation to generation
like the recuperation narratives they come with.
But that’s just it. History shows up with a facelift
and shades, and nobody here can identify him.
Children tell time by schoolbus or the minute hand
of a mother walking them briskly off to kindergarten.
HURRY UP CHILD
HURRY UP CHILD WE’RE LATE
They are too young to be indifferent enough to life.
Think of how the heads of commuters all bob alike
according to curves and dips in the road they know by rote.
Meanwhile, the romance of the skyline flies by unnoticed,
except when Him tells Her “that’s the house that Ruth built”
trying to start a conversation before she gets off in Pelham . . .
The part of the day seeming christened,
and maybe chastened. The promise of
morning, the up-tempo of sunrise streaking
the shady bedroom is removed, is remote.
Why? Why does the sheet and pillow bower
of dawn always get stunned awake, then
tossed aside? What happens to the liquid
fear commuting from sleep to the surface?
The kiosk and straphandle and ledge of curb.
The abacus of oranges flowing out of a mart.
The cortical torture of a triggered auto alarm.
0 City city, the fish knives of Fulton Street
de-bone and fillet on the other side of the river,
though the South Street cinema runs a replica
two blocks from the vangs of a stalled tall ship.
No sign of hasty caulking, no barnacles, no mold.
The music in the alley
and the music in the street
and the music in the subway
ain’t the music in the heat.
Of course every boy has a sweetheart,
And some boys they have two or three.
White men, black men,
Koreans, spics and chinks
none of us can get along
so everybody stinks.
Of all the girls in this great city,
There is only one in it with me.
Boom box, ball cap,
people in the city
never look you in the eye.
She lives with her folks on The Bowery
A few doors away from Canal,
Tristan and Wystan
where did you go?
You should have stuck around
till the end of the show.
And helps to support her mother
Does my little Bowery gal.
what is it then between us
but always the sea and the railing railing railing.
X had been holed up in his study much too long
trying to put the finishing touches on his masterpiece.
Sooner or later he had to look up from his invisible escritoire
and summon the chauffeur for a drive in the country,
and maybe a stroll in the state park to cure his insouciance.
It’s not that he put the desk in front of the wrong window,
(he had already experimented in all four directions)
rather that the unfinished oeuvre had made him a ghost writer,
despite the fact that he was the subject of his own work.
The excursion out of the city made him feel as anonymous
and insignificant as a footnote in the back of a lost tome.
There was something nostalgic about light weekend traffic,
the monochromatic veil of dreary buildings by the highway.
It was as if it had been this way a long time and the landscape
of smokestacks and warehouses and parched ball fields
was hibernating or suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.
Such spontaneous junkets did not go too far from home,
the apogee of these empty epics only an hour or two away.
The idea of going out and coming back from no destination
with someone else at the wheel was an alternative to breathing.
What about the data
we lost when we didn’t press ‘Save’
and a surge from the thunder brought down the system.
Could we regroup
and reconstruct the narrative as it was
complete with those spontaneous digressions we found
sitting together in the stands of an abandoned ballpark
one weekday in the middle of winter
and later leaning against the chain link fence by the dugout
looking at what was left of the almost eroded pitcher’s mound
the rubber awkwardly exposed like a gum’s last tooth
and later walking in the outfield with a history equally eroded
of teenagers backpedalling on the warning track
oblivious to the slant rhyme of subway cars
and later standing on the place where the plate used to be
and picking up a handful of dust.
Few places are as elegaic as ball fields in winter,
excepting perhaps old amusement parks by the sea in winter,
especially in a rain so light it does not fall so much as materialize.
Isn’t this how it is with inspiration,
a slight coating just enough to throw off your perception of the familiar
and soon the whole landscape seems formal.
Time is a terminally ill close relative of yours
and your impulse is to take a very good look at every feature before you go
because tomorrow the bed may be empty.
And so, what is it? What are we meant to infer
from the almost imperceptively slow decline from stable to
serious to critical?
What was the doctor saying when we were in the hall?
Is sadness something we were supposed to get used to?
The beauty of the ball and mitt was that there was no clock,
everything being equal the game could have gone on forever.