NOTES TOWARD AN OBITUARY IN THE SAINT LOUIS SPORTING NEWS and other poems

 

 

NOTES TOWARD AN OBITUARY IN THE ST. LOUIS SPORTING NEWS

by Glenn Stout

 

Let it be said:

 

I never refused the ball, that

I tried to finish what

I started, that I pitched through pain

and never asked for relief, even when I wanted it

that I didn’t choose this

as much as I was chosen

that I never complained about the limits of my talent

and still don’t regret a single pitch I threw.

That I never mastered the curve

and that deception was not my game.

That I pitched inside, and high

that my control came and went, pitch by pitch

that I fell in love with my fastball early

and hated to throw the change

but had to, to survive.

That I probably went for the strike-out too often

and never wanted to depend

on those who stood behind me.

That I fielded my position reasonably well

if not with grace, that I

never doctored the ball

or secretly spit on my hands

but if I found it scuffed

yeah, I’d use that, and I’d use the cold weather

to gain advantage, or a stiff wind

to help it move, or the white-shirted crowd

to make it disappear.

That I could hit a little, make contact

enough for the hit and run, yet

didn’t mind the sacrifice.

That I threw batting practice

whenever I was asked, moved to the pen

and didn’t complain, never whined

about the contract I signed, never took

much less than what I wanted

but never got

quite what I felt I deserved.

That I was kind to the kids

and tried to help, though most didn’t want it.

That I signed for everyone, and never took a nickel.

That I pitched with a sore arm

much of the time, but iced it alone

so nobody knew.  I roomed

by myself when I could

and didn’t run around much

never had a girl in every town

but a couple in a few.

I was kind, even when they didn’t care

and never took advantage

when they mattered.

That I kept my drinking quiet

tipped well and picked up the tab

covered my hangovers with bubble-gum and tobacco

and learned to throw for the middle glove when I had to.

That when I shook off a sign

and paid for it, I took the loss

and always cooked my catcher

a steak afterwards.

That the boos bothered me

people I didn’t even know

and the mound in certain cities.

That the cheers were something I never trusted

and that I liked the ballpark best

when it was empty, in the cool of the morning

sitting on the bench, back against the dugout wall

or else at night, the crowd gone

the lights flicking off

the nighthawks, the moths, and me

next to invisible.

That there were hitters I feared but never showed them

and others I owned and grooved one for

once in a while when it didn’t matter.

That I thought the save was overrated

and that I stayed around .500

lost some games I should have won through stubbornness

usually received no decision

suffered from little support

an earned run average in the upper threes

but that the numbers didn’t matter much to me.

I never knew how to measure the game

beyond the time spent playing it.

That statistics, after all

are black and white

but fail to mention gray

and that’s the way it looked to me most of the time.

That sometimes I’d throw at a batter

but was never any good at it

lacking real malice toward any but my own.

That I argued with the authorities now and again

but never embarrassed them

or got thrown.  My strike zone

and theirs each moved around a lot

and I knew we hid behind our accidents

and sometimes took credit for them.

That it might have cost me

a comfortable life, a wife

a real home – the practice

the concentration, the mind wandering off on its own

to re-hash each pitch and swing

the heart marking time between starts

the dreams which woke up nightmares

when they ever slept at all

linescores of an endless game.

 

Lyle once said

the most important thing for a pitcher

is to learn to forget.

Well I’m not sure what he meant.

I don’t remember games anyway

but moments

things I found on the sidewalk

the line drive I took on the chin

the time I threw my sunglasses against the clubhouse wall

when I got the hook and didn’t deserve it

the girl in Boston I necked with once for fifteen hours

who didn’t even know I was a pitcher

and didn’t care

the blonde from New York

who asked me “Who’s Ted Williams?”

then ran away with a dentist

and didn’t even say goodbye.

I broke my hand

trying to get her back

and was never the same.  I was better.

I just kept pitching

and trying to forget.

 

Lyle was right.

 

That I never was

a big winner, sometimes

a poor loser, and that I finished last once or twice

for being nice.  I was never a star

but beat those that were as often as not

never pitched in a Series

but sat on the bench once, pining

while others were out there, waiting for the call

that never came.

That I was never much coveted

by others, or appreciated by my own

but I filled a role and don’t think

I’ll be forgotten easily.

That when it was over and time to quit

I knew, but cried

and asked back later, quiet

my wonder at why answered with silence.

So I resigned.  I turned down

my day, said the polite things

saw my number given away

someone else try to take my place

then walked off, my head high.

That at least I was always good for a story

and on the last day when the writer asked

if I would do it again

I rolled the ball

around in my hand, felt each

of the one hundred and eight stitches that held it together

wondered what the wound was

how it healed

and why it left a scar.

That I looked him in the eye

and answered:

 

I never refused the ball.

I tried to finish what I started.

I pitched in pain.

I didn’t choose this.

I was chosen.

 

That I didn’t know

if I’d do it again

because to pitch the way I did

is to be exposed

all the weaknesses known

the whole of your life

split open at the seams, sometimes

from getting hit so hard, so often

and I wasn’t sure

I ever wanted to be left

that alone.  But that I did it anyway

knowing this could happen, and there was nothing else

I knew that sure.

He nodded, scratched at his pad

and walked away, wishing me luck.

And in the paper the next day

he wrote about how much I loved the game

 

 

 

MOEM (after Frank O’Hara)

 

Mariano Rivera has collapsed!

 I was trotting along and suddenly

it started raining and snowing

and you said it was hailing

but hailing hits you on the head

hard so it was really snowing and

raining and I was in such a hurry

to meet you but the crowd on the sidewalk

was acting exactly like the sky

and suddenly I see a headline

MARIANO RIVERA HAS COLLAPSED!

there is no snow in Kansas City

there is no hail in Yankee Stadium

I have been to lots of ballgamnes

and acted perfectly disgraceful

but I never actually collapsed

oh MARIANO RIVERA we love you get up

 

BISON

 

The last few pages

are the most difficult.  The great

plains buffalo makes his stand

along the edge of it.

Stamping and snorting in the snow

he refuses to go peacefully into the distant silence of the night.

His thick furred hide turns white with each breath.

He is mostly ice, last of his kind

confined to staunch resistance.

If it keeps on snowing like this

he will surely disappear

and freeze into a huge and solitary tear.

But, if a thousand years from now

someone will stumble on this body

lift the carcass up to thaw before a fire

strip meat and flesh from pure white bone

and make some kind of poem from what is left of him

maybe then he will stop staring at me

close the great round question of his milky eye

and speak.

 

 

LIGHTING THE FIRE

The bellows of my breath

fill again, then empty

blowing on the old coals.

The rain last night

poured in through the flue

and wetted them.  I left

the damper open, and now

it seems that no amount of kindling

and no amount of paper

can make it catch.  So much

for faith.  Each time I blow

the smoke billows back out and tears my eyes.

I try again, twist paper into knots

strike a match with my thumb

and empty myself once more.

The words darken and burn.

The flame hesitates, then dies

then flares again, begging

for another breath.  I have given

all I can, but can’t stand

to see it die like this, so I go on.

One small part

starts to light, and I blow, gentler this time

to try to keep it going.

The room is cold, the wood damp

yet this one corner glows

and with each deep breathing out

some kind of fire grows

tinder to kindling, split log to soft coal.

The smoke goes up the flue, still open

and I watch it catch, all out of breath

the flame spreading out and giving off heat

the wood finally dry

release of energy nearly complete.

Then I know, backing off

this is why i breathe

and this is why I bother with it

and this is why I sit here, wheezing

even as the fire dies down on its own

content to watch, to catch my breath

and for a while, stay warm.

 

 

A.M.

I awake like my ancestors

moon set deep in sky

then get up and do the old, early work;

bury my face in water

run my fingers through my hair

start the day with fire.

Looking at the world that grows

outside the window, it is

first morning come again.

The dark shades recede, become familiar

the stars light another lamp

and my dark face withdraws

squinting from the sun.

I like to hear the first bird

last cricket, middle breath

of a sleeping woman.  In the dark

arrangement of space, her face

takes its place inside my arm

her legs are some strong vine

entwined each night around mine.

While she still sleeps I breathe

a little faster.  I want to wake

in the morning, touch the soft

inside of her arm with the first

slow movement of my eye.

Before I leave the bed

I choose a place upon her body

put my lips there.

She woke, spoke once of fires that die

lightening, and the soft warm fur

of my hair.

We wake the same, leave woman

for work, drop the dream

alongside the bed and rise

with the sun.  In the blue light

I know each day why I am still alive.

I like this earth that turns

as I sleep, my life some pure

still secret.  And the stars

in the top of my head that burn, all night

their cold light saying

illuminate, illuminate, illuminate.

 

 

P.O.W.

Two weeks since the war started

and I have already surrendered

thrown up the white flag

relinquished my gun, and turned myself over.

Caught between my own lines, captured.

Private, I am confined

with others of my kind; solitary,

chained to my oaths and promises

and no thought or words of home.

I keep no military secret but this:

We should not live this way.

My name, my number, my place and rank in this world

is not enough to say.  I have given up

to love; to fight

is to start the battle

and the beatings I still feel

all bad training, say for me to stop.

I’ll admit to anything, yet confess

to nothing else.  There is no war crime

no malice in my heart, but one true target

and I refuse to hate the one that keeps me.

We war for reason, and there is none here.

It is fear and loneliness, the feeling of our separate cells

we fight, and not each other.

I will cooperate with my captor

and join in the resistance the only way I can,

make invasion from imprisonment

trying to escape, freeing myself, through the head

the heart, and then the body

of the only true, real enemy

we have ever known.

 

 

Three Construction Poems i.

In the hall of this particular

(and the moth flakes smell

I stumble, literal even

spill things, tobacco juice

writing, to try poems again

in other, no less particular

places to be placed.

Building again, still

those forms pounded out, set,

put together strong and

the right way, but lately seen

in the wrong place

and not quite level.

Lucky

they had no concrete in them, yet,

and I never did learn

how to finish it.

ii.

Steel is strong for all but

emotional reinforcement, where

beer is better, at least

the next best thing to love is

not to.

iii.

Remembering that

Concrete

(that real

and substancial

form, or texture

Begins as formless

thick and completely a mess

but must be put in the right

most solid place

By not an arbitrary hand.

 

 

BASEBALL POEMS

 

OPENING DAY

Painted in the sand a box

and more, the diamond scored

the sun that turns to see

each season.  Standing there

waving the stick round in his hands

he marks the earth and pounds upon it

beseeching god or some other powerful thing

take hold his concentrated wrath

and swing, by god and strike against

the endless onslaught of the sphere.

 

 

KNUCKLEBALL

I tumble on, barely spinning

each stitch and seam pronounced

afloat and affected by the turbulent air

pushed first this way, then that way

asymmetrical by degrees

going forward from some release

out of hand and out of control

hard to meet squarely

difficult to grasp, easy to drop or let pass

cut loose from one sure grip

to drift and list on homeward

revealing utter confidence

that one still waits, arms out, on knees

a last sharp break to catch and squeeze

between two hands, and then to hold

the pitch at last received.

 

 

WHIFFLE BALL

(for Chris Tillman)

I pitch and then

your memory rises high above the house to bounce

upon the roof, careen across the shingles

and then begin to roll back to earth.

I dash beyond the porch

on backyard, left field grass to warning track

beneath the eaves and overhang

calculating hit to carom to catch

last moment stride to blind belief

see it all bounce off the gutter once

reach up and try to hold it

but it falls beyond my grasp

then lies there still, a ground-rule double.

Your ghost man lopes toward second base

but turns, pulls up then kicks the bag

and stays there.  You laugh

and then, too late, I kneel

and grab the ball.  It is

empty, white, weighs almost nothing.

One side is cracked, and full of holes.

 

 

ELEGY OF THE BASERUNNER

Leading off from the real world

at a safe distance, I am deceived

into returning.

 

 

BLUEPRINT

Fenway Park

like Cape Cod

Green Monster

the Sea.

 

 

BLEACHER HAIKU

Summer spent

the bleachers spin

with beer.

 

 

MY UPS

Into quick clear coherency

I stumble out from a fortnight of reinforcement

like Boog Powell

breaking a slump.

 

 

BEFORE THE FALL

This slow start this spring

could mean there are holes, dead spots

in the order, weakness

up the middle, and at each corner

Age.  Some of us

are in the wrong position

and with each stretch

the muscles pop and tear.

There is no defense

no great depth on which we can depend.

Our speed is suspect

and power, at best, sporadic.

From the cellar the sky is far away

and possibly false, the mound so high

who can help from falling awkward off?

The arms and hands have no control

and the eye wanders, unfocused

anywhere but home.

Each day we greet the earth, but circle

back between the lines

Alone.  The night brings

no relief but tomorrow

and the place where we stand

printed on paper

black and white.

Help is at least a year away

and we are closer to hell than that.

We are stepping in for the last time

going out across the fields.

It is a long season

and we are out of our league.

What can we do

but keep playing, playing

look to the sky, to the sun, a white blur

and pray that the rain comes, that summer is wrong?

 

And if you’ve read this far…Live at Stone Soup, Cambridge, circa 1989:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLulLAhVy5g
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSS2gcPXScY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tcr9AEazd3Y