Dec. 21, 2001

From Altitude, the Diamonds

by Richard Hugo

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Poem: "From Altitude, the Diamonds," by Richard Hugo from Making Certain it Goes On (W.W. Norton).

From Altitude, the Diamonds

You can always spot them, even from high up,
the brown bulged out trying to make a circle
of a square, the green square inside the brown,
inside the green the brown circle you know is mound
and the big outside green rounded off by a round line
you know is fence. And no one playing.

You've played on everyone. Second base somewhere
on the Dallas Tucson run, New Mexico you think,
where green was brown. Right field outside Chicago
where the fans went silent when you tripled home
the run that beat their best, their all-season
undefeated home town Sox. What a game you pitched
that hot day in the Bronx. You lost to that left hander,
Ford, who made it big, one-nothing on a fluke.
Who's to believe it now? Fat. Bald. Smoking your fear
of the turbulent air you are flying, remembering
the war, a worse fear, the jolting flak, the prayer.

When air settles, the white beneath you opens
and far below in some unpopulated region
of whatever state you are over (it can't be Idaho,
that was years ago) you spot a tiny diamond,
and because you've grown far sighted with age
you see players moving, the center fielder
running the ball down deep, two runners
rounding third, the third base coach waving hard
and the hitter on his own not slowing down
at second, his lungs filled with the cheers of those
he has loved forever, on his magnificent tiny way
to an easy stand-up three.

It's the first day of winter, the winter solstice. On this day, the northern hemisphere is farthest from the sun.

It was on this day in 1620 that a party of Pilgrims first landed at what would be Plymouth, Massachusetts. They had spent 64 days at sea on their journey from England, then another month exploring Cape Cod, where they first made landfall.

It's the birthday of composer and musician Frank Zappa, born in Baltimore, Maryland (1940). His music mingled sound effects, pop melodies, satiric lyrics, complicated rhythms, and snatches of modern classical music. He was a caustic social critic, at one point making fun of the Beatles with his album We're Only In It For the Money (1968). Other albums included Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1970) and Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970). Despite the psychedelic overtones of his music, he was a lifelong abstainer from drugs and alcohol.

It's the birthday of writer Edward Hoagland, born in New York City (1932). Though he has written several novels, he's best known as a nature writer, and for essays on topics ranging from tugboat captains to New York taverns to his own father. His travels for his writing have taken him to India, Africa, Alaska, the bayous of Louisiana, the deserts of Texas and the forests of Vermont. His books include Notes from the Century Before (1969), which is his own favorite, The Courage of Turtles (1971), Walking the Dead Diamond River (1985), Red Wolves and Black Bears (1976), African Calliope (1979), The Tugman's Passage (1982), Balancing Acts (1992), and Tigers and Ice (1999). He is the editor of the Penguin Nature Library. He has taught for many years at Bennington College and lives in Barton, Vermont. He said: "I write to live .... I might die from hurrying, scurrying and worrying if I didn't have something so worth hurrying about. I love life and believe in its goodness and rightness, but I seem not to be terribly well fitted for it—that is, not without writing. Writing is my rod and staff. It save me, exults me."

It's the birthday of poet Richard Hugo, born Richard Franklin Hogan in Seattle, Washington (1923). His first book of poems, A Run of Jacks (1961), got him an appointment at the University of Montana in Missoula, where he spent most of the rest of his career. His work emphasizes place and the need of the individual for a community. His books include Good Luck in Cracked Italian (1969), The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir (1973), What Thou Lovest Well, Remains American (1975), White Center (1980) and Sea Lanes Out (1983). He also wrote two novels and several books of essays, and founded the journal Poetry Northwest.

It's the birthday of writer Heinrich Boll, born in Cologne, Germany (1917). He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1972. He was called into the German army a year after graduating from high school, and spent six years as a private and corporal, fighting on the Russian and other fronts. His first two novels, The Train Was On Time (1949) and Adam, Where Art Thou (1951), describe the hardships of soldiers' lives.

It's the birthday of baseball player Josh Gibson, born in Buena Vista, Georgia (1911). He was called the black Babe Ruth, a star of the Negro Leagues before major league baseball was integrated. He was a catcher for the Pittsburgh Crawfords, where his teammates included Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, and Oscar Charleston, and for the Homestead Grays, which won nine Negro League pennants in a row. He is said to have led the Negro National League in home runs for 10 consecutive seasons and is credited with a lifetime batting average of .362.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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