GROUND RULE TRIPLE
That summer saw the end of pick-up stickball;
chasing flies thenceforth was supervised.
So I learned to fear the flubbing of a grounder,
flailed at laughing fast-balls flying past.
But once one came in fat and I connected,
met it in the sweet spot, sent it a mile.
It bounced into the woods (we didn’t have a fence)
and they gave me a ground rule triple.
Today, that tenth of a second when the ball
and the bat and my hands and my arms were one
is as long as my entire childhood.
1964, USAF Pilot Training,
Craig Field, Selma, AL
the eastern sill unsheathes a thin red streak.
We don our chutes, grab helmets, checklists, charts.
I copy his insouciant swagger
to our shrill T-37 Tweety Bird.
The cockpit ritual: we stagger
the twenty-two chants—thumbs out.
The crew-chief chucks the chocks—we roll.
Warlock one-four, you’re cleared.
I mash the throttles full.
Like a hound cut loose, the Tweet leaps out.
An angling angel tugs
and frees us from earth’s easy pull.
A tiny bubble rises in the sea.
Abeam the Selma drive-in
he cranks on the horizon
and yanks the nose around.
I’m sucked into my seat,
sweat pours into my mask.
“OK, it’s your turn now.”
I fumble for the mix
of throttle and rudder and stick.
“It’s an airplane, man—it’s not a plow!”
Tombigbee River bend:
he hauls us up—a stall!
“You got it—recover!” he spits.
I nose ’er down, she sways and sags,
I grab my bag
and dump those eggs and grits.
EMPTYING THE ROOM
First the sunken yellow couch,
its molded hollows
holding you a place.
The wobbly night stand next,
support for your whole universe
as darkness closed.
But the hardest leavings attach
to the parts of dying
you actually seemed to enjoy—
the large enameled delftware bowl
for baths: equestrian St. George.
An undulating dragon guards the rim,
the matching pitcher:
tandem beast and knight eternally confront.
The TV too (so not to squander consciousness
when books became too hard).
Your handbell by the intercom—
I try its mild tinkle,
loosen long-sequestered tears.
The table lamp from Sears:
its cream-white bulbous base
you only had to touch to turn it off.
I process them
according to established protocol:
a tiny foot, a hand
suspended in the purple slush,
all those once-ardent strivings
waving like anemones
anxious that I detect
that they had come at least this far.
Because a butterfly in Bolivia fluttered its left wing,
I entered the revolving door a step behind you.
Because in Zanzibar a zebra stubbed its foot,
I dropped behind another step and caught my foot
As the spinning door brought forth its rearward wing
Jamming its momentum just as you
Attempted to emerge. Because I smiled at you
In a way you found disarming, you waited at the escalator’s foot
To ask directions to the Monet wing.
Because I walked there with you,
Tonight the coast of France slides underneath our wing.
LONG-TERM PROSPECTIVE CLINICAL TRIAL
Do you remember the night we got engaged?
Hardly more than strangers really:
New Year’s Eve, a couple of drinks,
each reaching for a railing to hold onto
in the middle of that swaying ballroom
careening through the universe.
Too soon they brought us down
with their ropes and hooks.
Two starry-eyed white mice,
we must have looked like perfect candidates
to test their controversial theory
that a single dose of weightlessness sufficed
to seal for life an embryonic love.
Their method: time.
Materials included: five serial injections
of well-past-midnight screaming infants,
followed up with booster shots
of stitches, braces, tantrums, teachers,
phone calls, football, boyfriends, girlfriends, cops.
Today we hugged our youngest, drove away.
Tonight, from behind your book
I feel your furtive glance across the room:
we’re down to two adults and they’ve come back
with clipboards and white coats, accruing data
crucial to the ultimate results.
I TURN FIFTY, I TURN SIXTY
My grandson is a one-year-old today.
He took three wobbly steps before he fell.
I did the same thing I did yesterday.
He saw a star. Though it was far away,
He kept it close inside a little cell.
My grandson is a three-year-old today.
A pony ride, some squeals, a sprinkler spray,
Blew out five birthday candles. Me? Well,
Pretty much what I did yesterday.
His first grade play: portrayed a manta ray.
A brand new bike with racing stripes, a bell.
My grandson’s seventh birthday is today.
His Dad took him to see the Yankees play
When he turned nine. As near as I can tell,
I did whatever I did yesterday.
A tremor when he glanced at Barbara Gray,
A strange new note, a pulse, a surge, a swell.
My grandson passed eleven years today.
I don’t recall what I did yesterday.
FIFTIETH HIGH SCHOOL REUNION
A bolus of war babies rolling through the system,
in fifty-five, they funneled us
inside that giant Skinner Box and through a maze
of happy, wretched, fleeting, endless days.
Until the one when they hooked up the Hoover,
sucked us out of the corridors
and blew us around in a bag for fifty years.
Till finally tonight they dump us out
at the River Vale Country Club door.
Where we amble into a swarming foyer
full of geeks and jocks and beauty queens
shuffling around like arthritic flamingoes,
each canting a half-full glass of Chardonnay.
So we sidle up beside some dried-up bird,
lean in to catch its name tag, then shriek
to realize it’s Late-for-Homeroom Jones
still goofing off inside those rheumy eyes.
Oh Time! Your maps are all inaccurate.
You’ve wormed inside our yearbook:
you’ve drawn in all those rivers,
put deserts where the forests used to be,
moved all the mountains south.
Nevertheless, we sit down at our tables
with some Florentine chicken alfredo and more wine,
trying without much success
to channel our rambunctious ancestors.
But wait. Our emcee’s organizing games:
Form two lines, boys versus girls:
Who’s first to sing the entire alma mater,
recite the names of all the Mouseketeers,
match the years with every Elvis hit?
Soon we’re shaking out of our rumpled skins
to piped-in fifties oldies. We’re back in the gym
among the only bunch who’ve ever really known us
and glad they’ve come to see us home again.
AT DOLLY’S DINER
I was taking a break from writing
over a cup of coffee in a booth
at Dolly’s Diner out on 59,
the February afternoon fading
with my spirits,
wondering if there really was
such a thing as inspiration.
That’s when I saw it in the parking lot:
perched on the fender of a pickup truck,
visible in fleeting glimpses
between the veils of snow.
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