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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
they had no concrete in them, yet,
and I never did learn
how to finish it.
Steel is strong for all but
emotional reinforcement, where
beer is better, at least
the next best thing to love is
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.
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.
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.
(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
like Cape Cod
the bleachers spin
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?