Oct. 3, 2005

The Retarded Children Play Baseball

by Wesley McNair

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Poem: "The Retarded Children Play Baseball" by Wesley McNair, from Talking in the Dark © David R. Godine, Boston. Reprinted with permission.

The Retarded Children Play Baseball

Never mind the coaches who try
to teach them the game,
and think of the pleasure

of the large-faced boy
on second who raises hand and glove
straight up making the precise

shape of a ball, even though
the ball's now over
the outfield. And think of the left

and right fielders going deeper
just to watch its roundness
materialize out of the sky

and drop at their feet. Both teams
are so in love with this moment
when the bat makes the ball jump

or fly that when it happens
everybody shouts, and the girl
with slanted eyes on first base

leaps off to let the batter by.
Forget the coaches shouting back
about the way the game is played

and consider the game
they're already playing, or playing
perhaps elsewhere on some other field,

like the shortstop, who stands transfixed
all through the action, staring
at what appears to be nothing.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Emily Post, born in Baltimore (1873). Her husband lost a lot of money in a stock market panic. They divorced. Emily Post had to raise her two daughters by herself. She tried writing novels, but then her publisher asked her to write a manual about etiquette. It came out in 1922, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home. She became the arbiter of good manners and wrote a syndicated newspaper column as well.

Emily Post said, "Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners no matter what fork you use."

It's the birthday of Thomas Wolfe, born in Asheville, North Carolina (1900). He spent many years trying to become a playwright, then had an affair with an older, married woman named Aline Bernstein. She became his muse and convinced him to write a novel. He dedicated his novel Look Homeward Angel to her.

Thomas Wolfe died young, of meningitis, and left behind a crate full of notebooks and manuscripts. His editor went through the crate and created two novels out of the material there, The Web and the Rock and You Can't Go Home Again.

It's the birthday of the author and veterinarian James Herriot, born James Alfred Wight in Sunderland, England (1916). He started in Glasgow, became a veterinarian on the moors of Yorkshire. He liked to tell stories about the people he met and funny events.

One day he was telling his wife about what had happened to him that day. He said he wanted to put part of it in a book. She said, "You're never going to write a book. You've been talking about it for 25 years. You've never written anything." Herriot said, "That did it. I went straight out and bought a lot of paper and got down to the job." His books All Creatures Great and Small and All Things Bright and Beautiful were best-sellers in the early '70s.

It's the birthday of Gore Vidal, born in West Point, New York (1925) who, in 1948, published a novel, The City and the Pillar, the story of a young, gay man, which got scathing reviews. The New York Times refused to review his next five novels in the paper. It was a great blow to his career. He had to write pulp fiction under pseudonyms but eventually won his way back with historic novels and his best-seller of 1968 Myra Breckinridge.

It was Gore Vidal who said, "Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies."

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




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