December 17, 2011

Jane Byers

BASEBALL

My parents bought me a left hand glove,
because I am left handed.
They did their best.
They had to parse the mystery of foreign gestures:
the coach touching his peaked cap, tapping his chest,
the crouched catcher signaling between his legs.
They asked what kind of sport was played on a diamond,
was the soil hard? Would I be rich?
And home plate—was it made of china?
Why is the short stop not short? What is a bullpen?
Some days I answered patiently.

Another glove was out of the question.
I knew not to ask,
savings gone,
less meat for a week
because of a leather extravagance.
“Cricket players don’t wear gloves”
was quickly shushed by my mother.

I learned to throw with my right hand,
weeks of quiet practice,
pitched tennis balls careen off the garage wall,
never accurate but I did get strong.

Peering from left field, I hoped for pop flies
but other things distracted me,
like the way they sat erect in the stands, reading their foreign paper.
My teammates would squint at the outfield
following the line drive to my outstretched glove,
their cheers prompted my parent’s mistimed applause
as I hurled the ball in an errant direction.

I gripped the bat and swatted like mad at the incoming pitch
but half of swing is attitude.
I tried to earn my way with a solid hit,
then stranded on base, I waited for the coach’s signal,
though stealing home is always tougher than it looks.

Baseball is not a game of effort so much as belonging,
each fielder standing alone, occupying territory
or planted over home plate, guarding inheritance.

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011
Tribute to Canadian Poets