Archive for June, 2018

Additions to my anthology of favorite poems: Mary Oliver’s Praying–plus one other

Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

Praying

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones;  just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Praying” by Mary Oliver,
From Thirst: Poems. © Beacon Press, 2007.

++++++++++

We are in the season of remembrances associated with Memorial Day. So, I share a slightly revised poem I wrote decades ago that has The Korean War in its background. This poem is an imaginary confrontation of a son with his father, but the imagery draws on the Army experience of my late oldest brother, an excellent baseball player. During the Korean War, he was kept back from being shipped to Korea and instead assigned to Special Services to play baseball against teams of GI units stationed overseas as well as national teams in Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Spain, and Russia. He was called Mason, after my deaf uncle in Newfoundland. My wife and I named our youngest son after them. (Incidentally, my mother never lost a tooth playing baseball. That image is drawn from my time as a college women’s softball coach and happened to one of our catchers.)

++++++++++

Singing from a Crouch

I am of a line of catchers whose knees creak at the bend
and whose cheeks protrude from their embrace of ’baccy.
Even my mother’s smile shows the legacy: a chipped tooth
smashed by a bat that swung, missed, and slid through
the cross-bars of her mask. And she recalls in her telling,
“I held the third strike.”

My father beat death in Korea with baseball, plucked from
a platoon of gunners who died on an Osan hill and shipped
with Special Services to catch the professional offerings
of Curt Simmons, ex-Cardinal, ex-Phillie, and to tour
the spas of Switzerland and the baths of Russia
between ballgames.

His father before him made it to Double-A
and dirtied his Raleigh-Durham uniform and the spikes
of opposing batters with wads of Red Man expectoration
just before each pitch, or so my father tells it
in boyish admiration that I cannot mimic, as I cannot
hold his pitches.

Dad speaks from a crouch, lowering himself to
Little League level and acting out memories
of the diamond, skipping the dead boot-camp buddies,
lily-white locker rooms, brawls with German teams,
and Curt Simmons cutting several toes off his foot
with a lawnmower.

I pitch him hints that a singer roars in my breast
not a catcher and no chest protector can keep my words
from getting out and hurting in their hatred of
a boys’ game for men. He sees me sitting behind my guitar,
and he tells me I look like a catcher with an oversized
mitt for knuckleballs.

“From behind the plate”—his favorite entree to a story
—“you look into the faces of all your teammates.”
And, yes, one thousand times he reminds anyone
that a catcher squats legally and of the nine waits alone
in foul ground. I fouled his ground as this poem swelled
in my hands and mouth.

“My Daddy—your Granddad—was a singer,” he told me,
and I was captive to surprise. “He loved to sing old hymns.”
(My father’s faith died with a letter from Korea:
“God,” he insists, “throws nothing but curveballs.”)
“And your Grandmother played the organ,” he added.
“She loved to play Largo.”

When I hungered for more, he sang me ingrained lines
from “Abide With Me,” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
When I was vulnerable, bent in the heart’s probe for details,
he told me Granddad stopped singing when Grandmom died
young. “I guess,” my father concluded, “he discovered
you can’t sing from a crouch.”

*Published in Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature, Vol. XIX, No. 2, Spring, 2002, p. 111.