Jun. 7, 2008

City of Tonawanda Softball Championship

by Sarah Freligh

Two down, two out, two on in the ninth
when Sid Szymanski stands in at catcher,
sorry substitute for Larry whose sure
hands were summoned to a plumbing
emergency by his buzzing pager in the bottom
of the sixth. Still, the usual chatter
Hum baby, hey baby hum hey Sidder Sidder Sidder
though Zack's guys are mentally packing
bats in bags, unlacing shoes in order
to get away-fast-before the Panthers,
arrogant bastards, can gather at home plate
in a love knot of high fives and beer foam
and gloat. Strike two and Sid calls time,
steps out to take a couple of practice cuts
a la Barry Bonds, like him a big man,
all head and chest, and Siddersiddersidder
the car keys are out, that's all she wrote
when the pitcher gets cute with a breaking ball,
hanging it a nanosecond too long, time
enough for even fat sad Sid to get around
and give that pill a ride.

Rounding first, already red faced, a crowd
in his throat, Sid wants to believe
it's not the sludge of a million
French fries, but pleasure
more exquisite than the first breast
he touched one winter Sunday
while his dad in the den upstairs
cursed the Packers and Bart Starr, while his mom
chattered on the phone to her friend
Thelma about the macaroni casserole
and menstrual cramps, Sid swallowed
hard and bookmarked his place
in Our Country's History, the page before
the Marines stormed the hill at Iwo Jima
and turned back the godless Japs, a high tide
clogging his chest as Alice Evans unfastened
the pearl buttons of her white blouse
and presented him with the wrapped gift
of her breasts, now second base and third
and the thicket of hand-slaps all the way
home where Sid hugs the center fielder
hurried and embarrassed the way men do,
oh, the moment, replayed again and again
over Labatt's at Zack's, the first pitcher
delivered by the great Zack himself
rumored to have been the swiftest,
niftiest shortstop on the Cardinal farm
but called to serve in Korea and after that
the closest he got to baseball was standing
next to Ted Williams at a Las Vegas urinal

Tomorrow Zack will make a place
for the trophy between dusty bottles
of Galliano and Kahlua while Sid
will field calls from customers complaining
about rising cable rates and too many queers
on TV, pretty much what he'll be doing
five years from now and ten when his wife
leaves a meatloaf in the freezer and runs off
with Larry the plumber and in twenty years,
when Zack's Bar is bulldozed
to make way for a Wal-Mart,
Sid will slump in a wheelchair
in a hallway littered with old men
mumbling and lost, wrapped
in the soft cloth of memory:
The arc of the white ball, a pearl
in the jewel box of twilight sky.

"City of Tonawanda Softball Championship" by Sarah Freligh, from Sort of Gone. © Turning Point Books, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the woman who wrote, "We real cool. We / Left school. We / Lurk late. We / Strike straight." Gwendolyn Brooks, (books by this author) who was born in Topeka, Kansas (1917), but grew up and spent nearly all her life in the Southside of Chicago. She began writing poems when she was a child and published her first poem at the age of 13. She said, "Very early in life I became fascinated with the wonders language can achieve. And I began playing with words."

Her parents encouraged her literary ambitions and put her into contact with Langston Hughes, to whom she wrote and sent her poems. Langston Hughes wrote back to her "You have talent. Keep writing! You'll have a book published one day."

She published her second collection of poetry, Annie Allen, in 1949, and in it she used an experimental form that she called the sonnet-ballad. Critics liked it, and a Times book reviewer praised her work as "full of insight and wisdom and pity, technically dazzling." The next year, in 1950, she became the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize.

She said about her poetry, "I wrote about what I saw and heard in the street. I lived in a small second-floor apartment at the corner, and I could look first on one side and then the other. There was my material." And she said, "At times I consider myself a reporter. I look, I see, and then I report."

She said, "Poetry is life distilled."

It's the birthday of novelist Elizabeth Bowen, (books by this author) born in Dublin, Ireland (1899). She's known for writing about British upper-class society in novels such as The Death of the Heart (1938) and A World of Love (1955).

During World War II, Bowen lived in London and served as an air raid warden. She enjoyed it. She said, "Everything is very quiet, the streets are never crowded, and the people one dislikes are out of town." She set her novel The Heat of the Day (1949) in wartime London, and it became her best-known work.

It's the birthday of poet Nikki Giovanni, (books by this author) born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni, in Knoxville, Tennessee (1943), but raised in Cincinnati. She gained early admission to Fisk University in Nashville, but was kicked out at the end of her first semester, as she later wrote, because her "attitudes did not fit those of a Fisk woman." But four years later she returned, and in 1967 graduated magna cum laude, earning a degree in history.

At Fisk, she became involved in both the Writers' Workshop and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and was very active in the Black Arts movement, a loose coalition of African-American intellectuals who wrote radical poetry aimed at raising awareness of black rights. Her poetry collections include Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968), Spin a Soft Black Song (1971), Ego-Tripping (1973), and Vacation Time (1980).

She said, "I resent people who say writers write from experience. Writers don't write from experience, though many are hesitant to admit that they don't. I want to be clear about this. If you wrote from experience, you'd get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy."

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




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