My father came home with a new glove,
all tight stitches and unscuffed gold,
its deep pocket exhaling baseball,
signed by Mays or Mantle or “The Man,”
or some lesser god I’ve since forgotten.
He took off his tie and dark jacket
and we went outside to break it in,
throwing the ball back and forth
in the dusk, the big man sweating
already, grunting as he tried
to fire it at his son, who saw now,
for the first time, that his father,
who loved to talk baseball at dinner
and let him stay up late to watch the fights
unfold like grainy nightmares
on Gillette’s Cavalcade of Sports,
the massive father who could lift him
high in the air with one hand,
threw like a girl — far and away
the worst he could say of anyone —
his off-kilter wind-up and release
like a raw confession, so naked
and helpless in the failing light
that thirty years later, still
feeling the ball’s soft kiss in my glove,
I’m afraid to throw it back.
Copyright by George Bilgere
- - -
Evening Mr. Bilgere. Or...morning. The terms are debatable.
It's so difficult to not try too hard when writing to poets. I try to force every word into the shape of a sledgehammer and give it the appropriate heft with alliteration and whatnot and it just...it doesn't work. Plainspokenness is dreary and verbosity carries the possibility of being hackneyed and forced, so I'm caught. Fly-papered.
- - -
I came across "Catch" when I was in High School - it was published in an issue of American Scholar, I believe, and my father used to slip the quarterly into my bag (or, on one occasion, into my box of Lucky Charms) when I wasn't looking. It's been at the back of my head since then for a number of reasons that I couldn't quite place until last night. It's T.S. Eliot's fault; it usually is.
There were people in my apartment last night, along with a copy of the Norton Anthology of American Literature. I work in a used book store, a very, very large one, and am surrounded by words and people and word-people all night long. One of my guests was (is) a poet, and flipped the thing open to find Prufrock staring him in the face. He started reading, and off we went.
We started debating forms and words and meters and whatnot because, well, because there was beer involved and that's what happens when book store clerks take their work home with them. One of the people involved, it turned out, had an interesting disability, though intellectual or educational I'm not sure - she is incapable of hearing the difference between masculine and feminine syllables which, to be fair, makes it rather difficult to explain anything more poetically complicated. Because of this disability she has a hard time finding poems interesting for anything other than pure emotional response - she can't analyze and therefore doesn't see the point.
In a way, that's refreshing - it brings poetic plot to the forefront in a way that is usually hidden. We (at least, I) spend so much time searching for lyrical tricks and wit that meaning tends to become less important. In an attempt to help her, I went looking for works whose plot, like Prufrock's, is bare and yet whose metrical nature is still intrinsic to what we were looking at. And I remembered "Catch." And I Googled it - couldn't for the life of me remember the title, but searching for ("threw like a girl" poetry) worked wonders. In attempting to explain to this girl why poetry is poetry and prose is not, I realized that the way you tell stories on paper is the way I tell them to others - the stresses, the emphasis, the dip of intoned speech, all of it.
I'm not a disciple and, while I write poetry, I'm certainly no poet, caught somewhere between student and impostor with delusions of grandeur. But in some small way, "Catch" was an integral part of my lyrical upbringing.
Thank you, is what I'm saying. I don't know how often you hear that, but you've heard it from me.
This Writeup conforms to current E2 Copyright policies. Just so you know.