Sunday, 20 October 2013

Sunday Poem

‘I didn't really say everything I said.’–Yogi Berra. 

I join hundreds on the platform at Union
Station in New Haven. This is the Yankee Clipper
that carries Connecticut fans to ball-
games in the Bronx. They know what to wear:
white shirts with the names in blue of Gehrig,
Ruth, Berra, Mantle, Mattingly and the rest.
Teenage girls wear halter-tops with blue pinstripes
and the interlocked letters: NY—
all made flirty with spaghetti straps.
Sore-thumb conspicuous, I wear no mark
of loyalty, just a t-shirt, shorts, and a splash
of sun-block for this ninety-degree day.
I get the occasional glance—tolerant,
skeptical or just uncomprehending.
                                       Two hours pass
as we stop at the places where Manhattan
sleeps; car after car fills with families,
beery pals, old men, schoolboys, all partisan
and wry. Then 153rd Street Station
where we wind down paths and between fences.
Two years ago, my son and I went to
the old stadium just to say we’d done it
—been there with the ghosts. That night Mussina
pitched a stinker—just to remind us
of the human condition, I suppose,
while that billion and a half of building
next door, the new stadium, promised something.
The ground is level, but the soaring
walls of pale stone trick the eye; it seems
to stand on a hill. Now the greeters swarm
and they hold signs like ping pong paddles:
‘Can I help you?’ Not really. My task is clear.
I go to a booth, buy a cap, put it on
just so I can feel myself disappear.

In the Great Hall are photographs of old
warriors: I am glad to see Thurman
Munson’s long banner and so many pictures;
a squat grumpy catcher, his numbers used
to hold me each morning, .307
or .312, and the ribbies mounting
in September till he had his hundred.
In 1971, he made no errors at all
until he was knocked cold on the base-path
and was obliged, at last, to drop the ball.
At 32, he crashed his jet near Akron.
Always MVP of a boy’s imagining --
my mind never did retire his number.

Everywhere, in this hall, is the face
of Derek Jeter, balletic shortstop—
known for the high leap, the mid-air turn,
and throw to first. Elegant, good-hearted,
he is the hook they hang the legend on
here in this odd shrine where I too bend down.

I take my seat clutching a huge pretzel
encrusted in an ocean’s worth of salt—
followed on an emergency basis
by a beer. Vendors work the steep aisles
with trays of Budweiser on their heads.
Others shout and hurl bags of Cracker-Jack
with Jeter-like accuracy to middle seats.
Even hotdogs come in a pinstriped box.

There are 45,000 people here
on Tuesday night to see the poor Mariners.
Twenty-seven flags blow towards the outfield.
My seat is good, view obstructed only
by children waving blue styrofoam fingers,
their fathers the famously erudite
Yankees fans who talk the scorekeepers’ code:
Melky drops the ball in centre-field and I hear
a disgusted, ‘E-8, no doubt about it!’

Alex Rodriguez sprints from the dugout—
if that man has an injured hip, may I be
so injured. He gazes up almost over-awed
at the scoreboard, replaying his latest
home runs on the way to a landmark
six hundred. But for all that, A-Rod
lifts no hearts. A-Rod lacks the magic.

I look to the bullpen and think I see
the closer, Mariano Rivera,
his face like a Latino Henry Fonda.
The New York Times says that he was so poor
as a boy in Panama that he learned
to play using a crushed milk carton
for a glove. A friend asks, ‘what did he use for
a ball?’ I don’t know—perhaps a jam jar?
Among priapic athletes he is thought a saint.
When young, he had a religious experience
and even now credits God for his split-
finger fastball; I agree, it is a miracle of sorts.
He prays and gives away heaps of money.
On his glove is stitched chapter and verse,
Phil. 4:13: ‘There is nothing I cannot
do in the one who strengthens me.’
Occasionally, he fails, but he never fears.

Mystique is big business, I suppose;
and razzmatazz is what we buy, knowing
that our strong minds still love all this.
What did the poets and the songwriters
see? What did Paul Simon see? What did
Marianne Moore in her broad hats see?
A chance for the ordinary life to be
a part of the great struggles of the world?
Some hidden tale of youth and age, told
over and over again? It is Santiago
pitying DiMaggio for his bone spurs:
‘Have faith in the Yankees my son.
Think of the great DiMaggio.’ And we know
it is the magic of the thing imagined.
From Dante's House (2013) by Richard Greene 

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