September 18, 2005
Four Cities, One Poem

One City, One Book. Remember when that community-wide reading program started in the 1990s? What an idea, a whole city sharing the experience of reading a single book--people on buses and park benches, in libraries and living rooms, alone or with their families or neighbors, as if gathered around some huge urban campfire, all taking in the same words. So, readers of Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville, I have a modest proposal. Let’s read together, a slightly smaller work: Four Cities, One Poem. And at this time of year the perfect poem is Gail Mazur’s “Baseball.”

Gail Mazur is Writer in Residence in Emerson College’s graduate writing program. Her five books of poetry include They Can’t Take That Away from Me, a National Book Award finalist. She is the 2005 recipient of the St. Botolph Club Foundation’s Distinguished Artist Award.

“Baseball” was first published in Ploughshares and is included in Mazur’s new book, Zeppo’s First Wife: New & Selected Poems, due out this fall from the University of Chicago Press. It was suggested by another poet I admire, Lloyd Schwartz. Read it a few times--for the meaning, the sound, more meaning, more sound. If you’d like, send me your comments. Or just enjoy on your own some of what the poet Robert Graves called the “stored magic” of poetry.

Baseball

The game of baseball is not a metaphor
and I know it's not really life.
The chalky green diamond, the lovely
dusty brown lanes I see from airplanes
multiplying around the cities
are only neat playing fields.
Their structure is not the frame
of history carved out of forest,
that is not what I see on my ascent.

And down in the stadium,
the veteran catcher guiding the young
pitcher through the innings, the line
of concentration between them,
that delicate filament is not
like the way you are helping me,
only it reminds me when I strain
for analogies, the way a rookie strains
for perfection, and the veteran,
in his wisdom, seems to promise it,
it glows from his upheld glove,

and the man in front of me
in the grandstand, drinking banana
daiquiris from a thermos,
continuing through a whole dinner
to the aromatic cigar even as our team
is shut out, nearly hitless, he is
not like the farmer that Auden speaks
of in Breughel's Icarus,

or the four inevitable woman-hating
drunkards, yelling, hugging
each other, and moving up and down
continuously for more beer
and the young wife trying to understand
what a full count could be
to please her husband happy in
his old dreams, or the little boy
in the Yankees cap already nodding
off to sleep against his father,
program and popcorn memories
sliding into the future,
and the old woman from Lincoln, Maine
screaming at the Yankee slugger
with wounded knees to break his leg

this is not a microcosm,
not even a slice of life

and the terrible slumps,
when the greatest hitter mysteriously
goes hitless for weeks, or
the pitcher's stuff is all junk
who threw like a magician all last month,
or the days when our guys look
like Sennett cops, slipping, bumping
each other, then suddenly, the play
that wasn't humanly possible, the Kid
we know isn't ready for the big leagues,
leaps into the air to catch a ball
that should have gone downtown,
and coming off the field is hugged
and bottom-slapped by the sudden
sorcerers, the winning team

the question of what makes a man
slump when his form, his eye,
his power aren't to blame, this isn't
like the bad luck that hounds us,
and his frustration in the games
not like our deep rage
for disappointing ourselves

the ball park is an artifact,
manicured safe, "scene in an Easter egg,"
and the order of the ball game,
the firm structure with the mystery
of accidents always contained,
not the wild field we wander in,
where I'm trying to recite the rules,
to repeat the statistics of the game,
and the wind keeps carrying my words away

—Gail Mazur

Ellen Steinbaum can be reached at citytype@globe.com. You can see past City Type columns at www.ellensteinbaum.com.

 
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