I sat at the stern lost in the moment as the blue heron approached my slip. It folded itself into an origami and slid into my shirt pocket like a slick magician slipping a card up her sleeve. We stared beak -to-beak like old friends astonished to be alive. The heron winked twice. And flew into the sunrise.
Half-numb, guzzling bourbon and Coke from coffee mugs,
our fathers fall in love with their own stories, nuzzling
the facts but mauling the truth, and my friend's father begins
to lay out with the slow ease of a blues ballad a story
about sandlot baseball in Commerce, Oklahoma decades ago.
These were men's teams, grown men, some in their thirties
and forties who worked together in zinc mines or on oil rigs,
sweat and khaki and long beers after work, steel guitar music
whanging in their ears, little white rent houses to return to
where their wives complained about money and broken Kenmores
and then said the hell with it and sang Body and Soul
in the bathtub and later that evening with the kids asleep
lay in bed stroking their husband's wrist tattoo and smoking
Chesterfields from a fresh pack until everything was O.K.
Well, you get the idea. Life goes on, the next day is Sunday,
another ball game, and the other team shows up one man short.
They say, we're one man short, but can we use this boy,
he's only fifteen years old, and at least he'll make a game.
They take a look at the kid, muscular and kind of knowing
the way he holds his glove, with the shoulders loose,
the thick neck, but then with that boy's face under
a clump of angelic blonde hair, and say, oh, hell, sure,
let's play ball. So it all begins, the men loosening up,
joking about the fat catcher's sex life, it's so bad
last night he had to hump his wife, that sort of thing,
pairing off into little games of catch that heat up into
throwing matches, the smack of the fungo bat, lazy jogging
into right field, big smiles and arcs of tobacco juice,
and the talk that gives a cool, easy feeling to the air,
talk among men normally silent, normally brittle and a little
angry with the empty promise of their lives. But they chatter
and say rock and fire, babe, easy out, and go right ahead
and pitch to the boy, but nothing fancy, just hard fastballs
right around the belt, and the kid takes the first two
but on the third pops the bat around so quick and sure
that they pause a moment before turning around to watch
the ball still rising and finally dropping far beyond
the abandoned tractor that marks left field. Holy shit.
They're pretty quiet watching him round the bases,
but then, what the hell, the kid knows how to hit a ball,
so what, let's play some goddamned baseball here.
And so it goes. The next time up, the boy gets a look
at a very nifty low curve, then a slider, and the next one
is the curve again, and he sends it over the Allis Chalmers,
high and big and sweet. The left field just stands there, frozen.
As if this isn't enough, the next time up he bats left-handed.
They can't believe it, and the pitcher, a tall, mean-faced
man from Okarche who just doesn't give a shit anyway
because his wife ran off two years ago leaving him with
three little ones and a rusted-out Dodge with a cracked block,
leans in hard, looking at the fat catcher like he was the sonofabitch
who ran off with his wife, leans in and throws something
out of the dark, green hell of forbidden fastballs, something
that comes in at the knees and then leaps viciously towards
the kid's elbow. He swings exactly the way he did right-handed
and they all turn like a chorus line toward deep right field
where the ball loses itself in sagebrush and the sad burnt
dust of dustbowl Oklahoma. It is something to see.
But why make a long story long: runs pile up on both sides,
the boy comes around five times, and five times the pitcher
is cursing both God and His mother as his chew of tobacco sours
into something resembling horse piss, and a ragged and bruised
Spalding baseball disappears into the far horizon. Goodnight,
Irene. They have lost the game and some painful side bets
and they have been suckered. And it means nothing to them
though it should to you when they are told the boy's name is
Mickey Mantle. And that's the story, and those are the facts.
But the facts are not the truth. I think, though, as I scan
the faces of these old men now lost in the innings of their youth,
it lying there in the weeds behind that Allis Chalmers
just waiting for the obvious question to be asked: why, oh
why in hell didn't they just throw around the kid, walk him,
after he hit the third homer? Anybody would have,
especially nine men with disappointed wives and dirty socks
and diminishing expectations for whom winning at anything
meant everything. Men who knew how to play the game,
who had talent when the other team had nothing except this ringer
who without a pitch to hit was meaningless, and they could go home
with their little two-dollar side bets and stride into the house
singing If You've Got the Money, Honey, I've Got the Time
with a bottle of Southern Comfort under their arms and grab
Dixie or May Ella up and dance across the gray linoleum
as if it were V-Day all over again. But they did not
And they did not because they were men, and this was a boy.
And they did not because sometimes after making love,
after smoking their Chesterfields in the cool silence and
listening to the big bands on the radio that sounded so glamorous,
so distant, they glanced over at their wives and noticed the lines
growing heavier around the eyes and mouth, felt what their wives
felt: that Les Brown and Glenn Miller and all those dancing couples
and in fact all possibility of human gaiety and light-heartedness
were as far away and unreachable as Times Square or the Avalon
ballroom. They did not because of the gray linoleum lying there
in the half-dark, the free calendar from the local mortuary
that said one day was pretty much like another, the work gloves
looped over the doorknob like dead squirrels. And they did not
because they had gone through a depression and a war that had left
them with the idea that being a man in the eyes of their fathers
and everyone else had cost them just too goddamn much to lay it
at the feet of a fifteen year-old-boy. And so they did not walk him,
and lost, but at least had some ragged remnant of themselves
to take back home. But there is one thing more, though it is not
a fact. When I see my friend's father staring hard into the bottomless
well of home plate as Mantle's fifth homer heads toward Arkansas,
I know that this man with the half-orphaned children and
worthless Dodge has also encountered for the first and possibly
only time the vast gap between talent and genius, has seen
as few have in the harsh light of an Oklahoma Sunday, the blonde
and blue-eyed bringer of truth, who will not easily be forgiven.
From THE BLUE BUICK, New and Selected Poems
Published by W.W. Norton & Company 2016
Contributed by Dan, 2023
NOTE: Fairchild is a favorite. He taps the roots of America for his ingredients
for poems as flavorful as food served in the finestsmall town cafes.
Roadwork In The Boneyard
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should rave and burn at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I do my roadwork in the boneyard
Sixty-nine and in my prime
Duckin’ the Grim Reaper’s hook
Slippin’ jabs from Father Time.
I do my roadwork in the boneyard
Shadow boxing my own stone
My epitaph reads Do or Die—
Either way, I’m on my own.
You either weaken in your fifties
As you beg to be excused
Or order up another round
As you wine and dine the Muse.
Though I’m damn afraid of dying
I’m not one bit afraid of death
I crave the coldest darkest nights
Liquid silver in my breath.
I’m the maestro of sweet science
I’m the Einstein of the ring
But time’s no longer relative
With the vultures taking wing.
You either live for the hereafter
Help the churches fill their pews
Or revel in the here-‘n’-now
Skipping rope to delta blues.
Rope-a-dope out in the boneyard
Iron bars against my back
I’m spitting in the eye of fear
With each lightning flash and crack.
Although death is all around me
I feel closer to my birth
Doing push-ups in the daisies
Stealing kisses from the earth.
You either sink in ol’ self-pity
In that cesspool of cheap booze
Or cling to pugilistic youth
With a flurry of one-twos…one-twos.
Doing roadwork in the bone yard
Shadowboxing my own stone
Doing roadwork in the boneyard
Toe-to-toe with the unknown.
From 51: 30 Poems, 20 Lyrics, 1 Self-Interview (Bangtail Press, 2011)
Recorded on Steering With My Knees (Bucking Horse Moon Music, 2016)
PAUL BUNYAN RETIRES
His camp’s cook shack, bunk house, stock lean-to, and sharp shop––all built rough wood-ramshackle––sag now and moulder into pine tree duff. Paul still duck-tapes bacon slabs to his feet and skates to grease the big griddle to cook flapjacks for kids with appetites like those of his beloved saw-boys. He finds he needs to keep some of the old swamp critters close enough to touch. Hodags’ shiny backbone plates. Hoop snakes rolling through brush to freeze his breath as they stun his heart. And of course the mad dog-wolverines.
Each night he cranks up the fireplace he rebuilt from the stone boat of rocks Babe dragged back to Rhinelander from the Olympic west. North Woods pipe smoke drifts through the pine canape stirring stars into new constellations the same way it churns his blood. Whiffletree, he mutters.Wanigan. Cackleberry. He chants back the excitement he remembers from old time ice-out log drives. Moose catsand grouse ladders fill sleep’s wild center until the minute Cookie’s kitchen iron clangs daybreak in the swamp.
WHERE SHOVEL HANDLES POINT
Some boys can’t find their ways out of mud
they stand up to their noses in the morning after
high school graduation. Learn where shovels
point! screed they grow fat yelling at sons
they heard straight from god their fathers
those days they spent slogging fields
by shovel. How they hated clay’s smell,
its clammy trails sliding down
tender skin inside their elbows and
armpits, and down along the shaky
sticks of their spines. And hated worms
too short to knot and too slimy
to touch––acres of them too spooky
to think about. You want out? bully-
clay taunts as it taunted.
Fight your way, or turn tail and run
the same scared way you’ve come at last
to look. Bile from old gods’ soggy
graves churns the boys’ gooseflesh
whenever their eyes close, where-
ever they hold still for what’s
left of the rest of their lives.
Two Steps Back
Ten o’clock at night,
too early to be late, too late to be evening.
It feels like a time of missed opportunities.
The moon outside my window is large,
a full face looking down at my predicament.
The dog lies at my feet. He is also waiting.
The currents of air from the open front door
still carry the smells of the earlier time
and suggest that anything might enter.
I think to shut it, but stay in my chair,
daring something to break the mood.
Still the silence indicates what is coming.
Many times, as many as heart beats,
people before me
sat with the same apprehension.
This did not comfort me
for I saw the unfocused faces in squalid rooms
with frayed rugs held in place by crooked tables
surrounded by faded paint and years of waiting.
I remembered smoke in rooms like this.
People lit up then
and lived with the shadows of gray
curling upward at no pace
before becoming part of the wall or ceiling.
This memory did not comfort me either.
For a person with only a short time until everything changed
I was fixated on the minutia of my memories.
I sensed more than saw
a fluttering outside the door,
a moth to the light maybe
or something else.
I stood up slowly
not wanting to disturb
the tension of potential concerns.
The dog also is up
and takes two steps back.
Jack and I
My Father was a golfer. I have joked that with our name, Parr, it was destiny. As I grew up I was aware of famous golfers through the interest of my Dad. I had read about Bobby Jones and in the 50’s I followed Ben Hogan and Sammy Snead, and then Arnold Palmer and later, Jack Nicklaus. My view is, the greatest of these is Jack Nicklaus. His career is unparalleled. I joined fans everywhere in watching his accomplishments and I had other connections to him.
As a student at Capital University 1958 through 1962 I became aware of Jack Nicklaus who, across town at Ohio State, was the same class rank and age as I. He was already a local hero as a young golfer. He had a reputation as an outstanding basketball and football player as a youth, and was the focal point of the Ohio State Golf team. He won the US amatuer titles in 1959 and 1961.
I began a radio career in 1962 as he was taking the number one ranking from Arnold Palmer, coincidentally I was working in Palmer’s back yard at various stations in Pennsylvania, the last one was in Altoona Pa. Palmer was from Latrobe, a nearby town. Through those years I was the lone NIcklaus supporter in the land of Arnie’s army. In 1967 I returned to Columbus Ohio to work in radio and advertising for the next 40 years
In 1967 I met Jack Nicklaus. I was working for a Columbus radio station, and He had agreed to record public service announcements for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. I was sent to his house along with a representative of the charity. I had three scripts, a tape recorder and a microphone. My assignment was to record his readings of the scripts; no interviews or any other business. That’s a very simple assignment but as I was young and about to meet a world famous athlete I was nervous. We arrived on a weekday at 9:00am at the NIcklaus home then in Upper Arlington.
We were welcomed by Barbara Nicklaus, Jack’ wife. I was 27 years old, so was Jack.. She explained Jack would be down in a couple of minutes and seated us in their living room. He called down the stairs, “be there in a sec.”
I was apprehensive. He had won his second Masters Tournament the year before and was already regarded as the best young golfer in the world. I wasn’t sure how welcome I was in his home and obviously he was just waking up to come down and record the announcements. My guess was he was upstairs regretting agreeing to this appointment.
He came down the steps saying “you are lucky you caught me in the morning, my voice is lower.” He was gracious, friendly and very confident.
He recorded the announcements in two takes and as he finished the phone rang. He excused himself and was gone for a few minutes. “That was a funny line,” he said as he returned, “we are to go swimming with (the caller) today and he said it looks like rain.” Jack added, “I told him to do something about it and he replied, ‘you can’t do something about the weather, it gives you away.” I remember we laughed, thanked the Nicklaus’s for their graciousness and I happily returned to work thinking I like this guy.
I followed his career over the next 9 years as he was on his way to breaking Bobby Jones’ record if 13 majors and become the first player to complete double and triple career slams of golf’s four major championships.
We met again in 1976 at his own designed golf course in Muirfield as I covered the first Memorial Tournament for local radio. I interviewed him several times over the early years of the tournament. The first time I asked him if he remembered the nervous young announcer in his home those 9 years earlier. He didn’t until I reminded him of the line from his friend that he thought was funny.
I played the Muirfield Course in a Media Day event after that first tournament and upon completing my round I turned my clubs into the Pro Shop for a cleaning. A few minutes later I was summoned from the snack bar by a caddie who said, “Jack would like to see you.”
I hurried over wondering what etiquette faux pas I had committed on the course?
Jack Nicklaus smiled as I approached, “These are your clubs?” he asked. “Well they actually were my Dad’s clubs, he passed away three years ago and I like playing with them.” “This one”, Jack said ” is valuable.” He was holding the putter, it said Tommy Amour on it. “Are you interested in letting it go?” “ I have a friend who would be interested in it.” I replied that I wasn’t since it was one of the few things I had of my Father. He understood, He had lost his father too.
Since that time I have read with interest the accounts of the Golden Bear as a player, as a course designer, and as an entrepreneur. And I have often repeated the line; “you can’t do anything about the weather, it gives you away. “
“THE WHITSUN WEDDINGS” BY PHILIP LARKIN
According to James Booth in his 2014 biography (Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love), Philip Larkin(1922-1985) is by common consent the best-loved British poet of the twentieth century.This poem has special significance to me for two very personal reasons. The first is that afterachieving a first-class honors degree at Oxford, Larkin became a university librarian, notablyserving with distinction for thirty years as the Librarian at the University of Hull. His tenureincluded the years 1965-68 when I was an undergraduate there, and 1971-72 when I returned asa postgraduate student.Secondly, the train journey from Hull to London described in the poem is very familiar to me. Asa matter of fact, the 1:20 PM train on a Saturday was my favorite train to travel home on at theend of the university term.A word of explanation about Whitsun. Whit Sunday, or Whitsun, is a Christian holiday whichtakes place on the seventh Sunday after Easter Sunday. Until 1971, the day after Whit Sundaywas a public holiday in the UK, and the three-day Whitsun weekend was a popular time forgetting married.
That Whitsun, I was late getting away:
Not till aboutOne-twenty on the sunlit Saturday
Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,
All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense
Of being in a hurry gone.
We ranBehind the backs of houses, crossed a street
Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence
The river’s level drifting breadth began,
Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.
All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept
For miles inland,
A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept.
Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and
Canals with floatings of industrial froth;
A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped
And rose: and now and then a smell of grass
Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth
Until the next town, new and nondescript,
Approached with acres of dismantled cars.
At first, I didn’t notice what a noise
The weddings madeEach station that we stopped at: sun destroys
The interest of what’s happening in the shade,
And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls
I took for porters larking with the mails,
And went on reading.
Once we started, though,
We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls In parodies of fashion, heels and veils,
All posed irresolutely, watching us go,
As if out on the end of an event
Waving goodbyeTo something that survived it.
Struck, I leant
More promptly out next time, more curiously,
And saw it all again in different terms:
The fathers with broad belts under their suits
And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat;
An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms,
The nylon gloves and jewellery-substitutes,
The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochres thatMarked off the girls unreally from the rest.
Yes, from cafés
And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed
Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days
Were coming to an end.
All down the lineFresh couples climbed aboard: the rest stood round;
The last confetti and advice were thrown,
And, as we moved, each face seemed to define
Just what it saw departing: children frowned
At something dull; fathers had never knownSuccess so huge and wholly farcical;
The women shared
The secret like a happy funeral;While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared At a religious wounding. Free at last,And loaded with the sum of all they saw,We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam. Now fields were building-plots, and poplars cast
Long shadows over major roads, and forSome fifty minutes, that in time would seemJust long enough to settle hats and say
I nearly died,A dozen marriages got under way
.They watched the landscape, sitting side by side—An Odeon went past, a cooling tower,
And someone running up to bowl—and none
Thought of the others they would never meet
Or how their lives would all contain this hour.
I thought of London spread out in the sun,
Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat:
There we were aimed. And as we raced across
Bright knots of rails
lPast standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss
Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail
Travelling coincidence; and what it held
Stood ready to be loosed with all the power
That being changed can give.
We slowed again
,And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelledA sense of falling, like an arrow-shower
Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.
Contributed by Roy SargeantSeptember 2023
AGE MONOLOGUE BY GEORGE CARLIN
The outstanding stand-up comic George Carlin (1937-2008) reminds us, the only time in our lives we like to get old is when we’re kids…
When asked how old you are?
If you are less than 10 years old, you are so excited about aging you think in fractions. I am four and half going on five.
You are never thirty-six and a half! When in your teens, you jump to the next number or even a few ahead. I am gonna be 16! You could be 13, but hey, you’re gonna be 16!
And the greatest day of your life…..you become 21. Even the words sound like a ceremony. You become 21. Yesssss!
But then you turn 30. Ooooooh! What happened here?
You become 21, turn 30, then you are pushing 40. Whoaaa! Put on the brakes! Before you know it, you reach 50!
But wait!! You make it to 60. You weren’t sure you would!So, you become 21.
Turn 30. Push 40. Reach 50 and make it to 60.
You’ve built up so much speed that you hit 70! After that it is a day-by-day thing.
You get into your 80’s and every day is a complete cycle; you hit lunch; you turn 4:30; you reach bedtime!
And it doesn’t end there. Into your 90’s you start going backwards. I was just 92!
Then a strange thing happens. If you make it over 100, you become a little kid again. I’m 100 and a half.
May all of us make it to 100!!
"THE PIANO" BY D.H. LAWRENCE
David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) was an English writer who is best known for
his powerful and highly original novels. When he died, his friend and fellow
novelist E.M. Forster described him as the greatest imaginative novelist of his
generation. But he also wrote poems, of which “Piano” is my favorite. Its meaning,
and its ending, “I weep like a child for the past,” resonate deeply with me. I think
it's likely that this poem may resonate with my fellow old goats.
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
Contributed by Roy Sargeant