Lord, I did lay concern on myself lathering up
With mint-scented soap-on-a-rope, steam rising
From the tile floor, the spindrift suds sucked down
The swirling shower drain. I then drew aside
On tintinnabulating rings the yellow curtain,
Groping for the means to towel off and slip on
My terry-cloth bathrobe. Sweat trickled down
The medicine cabinet mirror until my face
Rode up in the mercury-backed glass. I switched
On the Conair dryer, spellbound as my red-gold
Princeton haircut filled out in thick layers. No need
At fifteen for the Gillette platinum-edged blades,
I smeared English Leather like a heady balm
On my chest yet smooth as the tabula rasa.
It was for you, Teresa, that I put on the pleated
Oxford cloth shirt with the button-down collar,
Navy blue Levis and matching Gold Cup socks,
Then stepped into the oxblood penny loafers
With beef rolls. I shrugged on my wool cardigan
Still crackling with static this October morning
Over a half-century later in the year 2020.
Even before those days strolling HHS corridors
I remember turning the lighted dial of a radio
Surfing burbles and squeaks for the desired AM
Frequency breaking deep in the heart of the Delta.
I imagined Ty Cobb hearthside in the off-season,
The pine log sputtering and resin seething out,
How he lovingly rubbed with oily porkchop bones
His bat of tight-grained maple to prevent chipping.
When its barrel connected, he could feel the tingling
Recoil in his palms and watch the horsehide pill’s
Slow trajectory toward the rising tide in the bleachers.
When I toed the rubber in the junior-league,
The new-mown infield grass was more emerald
Than diamond. Every time I kicked and fired
I studied the physics of grip, pressure, release,
The red stitching on the ball like a Homeric
Figure of eight shield. I was king of the hill,
Teresa, and bided my time, handling the rosin-bag
Like a leather pouch bulging with gold-dust.
Unable to run my two-seam cutter over 88 m.p.h.,
I chipped at the strike-zone like a dark casement.
Batters would whiff too late my fastball
Turning into a wicked slider with a last-second
Flick of the wrist as the white spheroid rolled
Off my fingertips, and I bore the burden lightly
When sluggers swung, both knees buckling,
And muttering curses through the cured leaf,
Flung their helmets and returned to the dugout.
And don’t forget the knuckle-ball rotating only once
In sixty and ½ feet around its cushion-cork center
Like a fisherman’s cane pole and float hoping
The over-eager hitter would bite and go under.
Teresa, I was aces too when it came to snagging
Line-drives hit back to the pitcher’s mound,
My glove of Italian leather, web, palm, and heel
Its lacing like the braid and tassel of harvest wheat,
The hinge kneaded dark with neat’s foot oil,
Just the thing for hawking blue darters mid-air
And doubling-off some yokel headed for second.
Seldom did I hit a pitch beyond the infield,
But could lay down a slow roller toward third
And round the bag in a spiked flurry before
The opposing catcher pounced and threw down,
Rifling the ball past the first baseman’s mitt
Into right field. I stole home four times that season,
Loitering until some idiot lobbed the ball back
To his battery-mate without leaving his crouch
And I sprinted for the dish at a 4.32 clip,
Obliged to slide only once, the umpire’s arms
Spread wide while the dust settled in titters
And the home crowd booed lustily all the while.
But by twelve I’d begun to envy upperclassmen
Punting pebble-grained pigskins in the bricky mid-
November air, those leather-sleeved jackets
Worn only by varsity stalwarts with the letter H
Sewn over their hearts, plus green chevrons
Like high-flying geese to signify captains.
A pastoral sport to be sure, and cheerleaders
Such as you, Teresa, with your blonde gypsy shag
Caught up in gymnastics and choreographed dance,
The brass tubas pumping out “Georgy Girl,” to the flute’s
Lilting stops. But our new football Americain
Made the push and pull of the rugby scrum tame,
Hardly the gut-thumping whump like a dozen
Umbrellas exploding along the scrimmage line.
If you listened you could hear shoulder pads pop
In the press box, the exchange of helmet paint
A smudge of pride in locker rooms from Whitehaven
To Bartlett. Then it was legal to chop-block,
Crack-back, horse-collar, and spear-tackling
Was the norm. It led to ruptured knee cartilage,
Torn ligaments, deep-thigh bruises, and concussed
Skulls. One September night under the lights
At Halle Stadium I rushed for 132 yards, my right
Thumb and ring finger fractured when linebackers
Put their Riddell helmets with multibar face masks
Through the ball I was coached to cradle in both arms.
Thus the hammered gold band you reluctantly
Bestowed on him would never have fit me, Teresa.
Perhaps you still quicken that dark room silhouetted
Against a canvas screen pulled down like a shade where
Those 16 MM celluloid frames depict Viking exploits
Unfolding to the school projector’s slow inexorable roll.
From the ruck and maul of our humanity, those piled limbs
Blown dead by a referee’s whistle, we rise incorruptible,
Jumped up and come set again like a band of demons
Doomed to perpetual reenactment by reels run in reverse.
In those days long before overtime you’ll not recall
How we went 6-2-2 that season, the team’s collective
Fate held up as a warning to others by our taskmaster.
We bled in technicolor beneath those Friday night lights
And were consigned to a vault in black and white. Teresa,
I came back three years later to watch from the track
You straying impassioned along the sidelines. Perhaps
Some disaffection akin to my own was even then moving
Through you like an unbidden joy. My hair cascaded
To my shoulders, my shirt opened at the throat. I wore
Brown corduroy bell-bottoms over brass-buckled boots.
I was drunk on apple wine, and you looked at me so.