Batter Up! 

 

Bases Empty (February 18, 2017)

 

I dreamed I met you again

with my headphones on

along the avenue

the day was white

you had a bluish hue

as if your face was slightly powdered

I asked how your day had been 

doing business at some downtown office

you said it wasn't easy

as you leaned on your cane 

and looked me in the eye

(the old you, the one that was starting to worry

about going insane)

and then you went down the stairs

from the office on the first floor

I followed behind you

as we descended

as you slowly pushed open a door

that lead from the stairwell 

to the white day

 

I woke up and went through Kleenex after Kleenex

thinking each time I'd tossed one away 

that I'd cleared my eyes

and could see again

but the tears welled up again

and soon there was a scattered landscape 

of damp white snow 

cascading from my pillow to the floor

 

I finally had enough

and got up from bed

and walked into the den

with the pile of Kleenex still in my hands

I compressed them

and moulded them in my palms

 

In strange tribute

I assumed the old pitcher's stance 

rolled back and forth

with the Kleenex now a tight white ball

I leaned back one more time

although I had no signal from the plate

and let go

 

MY FATHER told me that he didn't believe in Heaven. If, however — and there was always an if with my father — there was an afterlife, he hoped to find himself on a baseball diamond, playing ball with his family and friends. After a year of slipping into dementia, he died on May 14, 2016, at the age of 92. 

I can only hope that he hears the cry of the umpire, Batter up!  

 

Diamonds

Dad, I hope you find that baseball diamond in the sky, and I hope it's more than you hoped — like a baseball fan happening across the kaleidoscope of diamonds in Cullman, Alabama

http://cullmanrecreation.org/facilties-parks/heritage-park/

http://cullmanrecreation.org/facilties-parks/heritage-park/

or that in some mirror world

you walk through the fields of your youth

and as you smell the warm summer air

you stumble across an old baseball diamond

with a pitcher's plate two feet long and six inches wide

somewhere in the distant prairies

pounded deep into the ground

an old wooden pitcher's plate

having survived many seasons upon the mound

solid as the prairie earth 

a simple wooden plate

surrounded by the bright Flowers of Truth

that everyone else proclaimed

Maharishi, Jesus, Darwin

all those revelatory Flowers

that in the end lead everywhere

wildly, in all directions

but not you

you stand on the ancient mound

and hear the umpire call

 

Cooper Glove 

 

Here's my father, on a wooden plank with a bucket in his hand,

and here he is, a tax lawyer in his office:

While others debated the meaning of the Cross

Darwin or the Holy Book

he kept his nose to the grindstone;

he kept his own quiet counsel with his stats and rosters

his own unchanging values of X and Y

of baseball and fair play

and beneath everything a belief in hard work and the Free Market:

Adam Smith’s invisible hand, Cooper-gloved.

 

Here he is, top row, second from the left, with his team from Horse Hill, where his father (the one with the suspenders) was their coach

just as years later he would become my coach and I would wear the bright yellow letters of our namesake, the Kansas City Royals:

I remember how he loaded up the ’67 Fury with duffle-bags of gear. He spent all Saturday afternoon, even till the sun went down, batting balls to my friends and I on the baseball diamond behind our elementary school.

 

From home plate over the bumpy ground of time

this world comes back to me

the crack of the bat

the uncertain bounce

across the years that change almost everything

all those Lucy in the Sky years

making me less certain about the value of that game

that world of sport

as my father reaches eighty-three

and the ball comes bouncing toward me

I'm not sure that I'll look down and find it

in my old black Cooper glove.

 

I search in vain for meaning amid his world of business and baseball stats. I find it hard to fathom what a man who's eaten at Michelin 3-star restaurants and lived one block off the Champs Élysées, would want with baseball stats or a complete roster of the Edmonton Eskimos.

Likewise, my father searches to understand me, as if I were an alien species. Why would I write poetry, spend hours in cafés, or underline sentences in novels?

Although we live in different worlds, these intersect at times, like when we're on the golf course, or at home on the range:

or when we're at a local hockey game with my two brothers, and he catches me with that same old eagle eye, five megapixels sharp:

He has a smile more dour than his Scottish blood, but the same old St. Andrew’s drive

driving me to remember his passion for sport

and his dream of Heaven: family and friends at home plate;

driving me to remember the names

written on the pennants on my old bedroom wall.

Many of the teams may no longer exist as far as I know

but I still remember the names: the Red Sox and the White Sox

the Padres and the Braves

yet the intensity that I felt

now seems so inconsequential.

Or is it still there

that fierce desire to smack the twisting sphere out of the park?

 

Playing Heads Up Ball

 

All those early evenings

(as the stars threatened to scatter us away from the field

and into the alleys

of our less noble pursuits)

my father stood there with his bat

and brainwashed us into remembering

that if we kept our heads down

and gazed at our navels

or if we looked too high into the god-filled clouds

and not at what was coming at us

life would smack us in the head

 

Or we'd miss what’s flying by:

the way the game's played

the joy of making a perfect catch

the satisfaction of leather on leather

and the beaming smiles of our teammates

as they shouted Three up, three down!

and we threw the ball back

toward the centre of the diamond

 

A diamond, rare indeed

in our world of glitter and self-loathing

that lead us toward alcohol and drugs

Deep Purple and Black Sabbath

 

I'd like to pay homage

to that rare diamond in my father’s eyes;

to a man whose satisfaction lay in our common good

invaluable instruction

on how to live

both for yourself and for your team

 

Night after star-coming night

dirt and leather lessons

on the balance between individual skill

and the loss of ego

in a finer game;

implicit lessons

that all came together, all made sense

in the umpire's cry: Batter up!

 

——-

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