I set out to write a poetry prompt encouraging readers to write baseball poems this week since, you know, ’tis the season.
We have a book of poems by Douglas Florian called Poem Runs: Baseball Poems and Paintings, and I thought I’d use that as inspiration. I like “Our Slugger,” a poem about a strong, mean batter with keen eyesight and arms that hurl the ball outta the park, and in the last line we learn, “our slugger’s a girl.”
There’s another one called “A Baseball,” which is primarily a list of all the things one can do with a baseball during a ball game — “ground it …. drive it …. bounce it,” for example. It’s a fun poem, but I especially love the painting that accompanies it. A baseball is in midair, and the red stitching is coming out of it. In its unraveling, the thread has turned into words: pitch, smash, hit.
It’s comforting, I think, to believe that in our unraveling — when we’ve been hit, when we feel out of control — there are still words to turn to to, to try on, to become.
And so I was thinking of list poems, concrete poems, maybe an acrostic to write this week. When I went to our bookshelves to find the book, out slipped a handmade library card that Hadley made when she was 9 years old. She wrote lines in green ink for the title, author, a box for the due date, and, “Thank you!” at the bottom. She filled out the information in orange marker. Ida is the girl who’s checked it out, and I believe that’s the person from Erica S. Perl’s book, Dotty. Dotty is Ida’s friend — a large, rhino-like being with sparkly purple-pink polka dots.
Hadley used a date stamp to let Ida know when the book was due: January 11, 2016.
Poem Runs was a gift from my sister-in-law, Shani. She gave it to Hadley and Harper in March of 2013. I know because she wrote the date on the inside cover along with a poem:
Spring and summer are on the way – yay!
I can’t wait to see you when you come in May!
Maybe it is baseball that we’ll play all day!
Until then, enjoy these poems.
This poem screams the influence of my father-in-law. Rare was the card that did not include a limerick he’d written in his heavy cursive, and rare was the moment he didn’t make a joke, or try to make a joke, or want to make a joke.
“This is what the Feyens do,” Jesse told me one day when we were dating. He’d spent an afternoon with his dad’s side of the family, and I don’t remember what it was for, but it was early enough in our relationship that we both knew my showing up with him would make a statement we weren’t sure we were ready to make, so he went by himself. It was for something serious — but not a wedding or a funeral — which is why I remember Jesse commenting on his family’s propensity for joke-making. When he commented on his father’s side of the family he wasn’t criticizing, but he described their merry-making with what I’ll call a cautious curiosity.
It’s not that Jesse doesn’t like to have a good time but (and I’m only being a tad hyperbolic here) holding the weight of and believing that he is responsible for the world is Jesse’s default. He pointed out the jolly factor of his dad’s side of the family in the same tone he’d use to tell me about hurricane storm surge and its effects on New Orleans: Here are the facts so you can be prepared.
While Jesse and his dad see the world differently, they do have some similarities. They are built the same way, with the same eyes and smile. They sound similar. And they both love baseball.
For the first several years of our marriage Jesse was on a fantasy baseball team. Weeks before he’d do whatever it is you do to get your team set up. He’d study a gigantic doorstop of a book having to do with the statistical analysis of every player since the time of Eve’s husband. Every year this book would release, and that day was like Christmas morning to him.
One year, when it was Opening Day or Pick Your Team Day or whatever very serious day it was in Fantasy Baseball Land, Jesse was very careful to make sure I had something to do “because this could be a while, Callie,” he said, doing his best to hold in his enthusiasm lest he come across as — gasp — emotional. This was also in the days of dial-up internet, which meant no calling my mom, for example.
“I’m fine,” I would tell him. “Do not worry about me!” I had books and magazines. I could bake a thing or two. I could explore the exciting and riveting town of South Bend, Indiana. I could prep lesson plans. There was plenty to do!
I decided to put on fake nails, an activity that I suppose seems harmless, and for the average person, it is.
Just as the chirp of the dial up dissolved and Jesse happily settled in with his snacks and stats, I sprayed glue on what I thought were my nails but was actually my eye. Also, I was wearing contacts.
Jesse left the dugout.
He called poison control.
He explained — without laughing, I might add — that his wife accidentally sprayed fake nail glue in her eye, which also had a contact in it at the time, and perhaps now for life.
He stood in the bathroom with me while I rinsed my eye while sobbing and repeating again and again, “I’m so sorry.”
I do not think Jesse’s dad has a story like this, but if he were here, he’d laugh — hard — and then say, “That reminds me of the time …. ” and usually, almost always, his story had zero to do with the one he’d just heard.
If he was here though, I’ve no doubt this story would prompt him to tell a story about baseball, a subject about which he had countless stories.
But Jesse’s dad is not here. He died sometime between Ash Wednesday and the early morning hours of the following Thursday of this year. So I will tell you what I know:
Almost every summer Jesse’s dad took a baseball trip, and sometimes Jesse would come too. They’d pick a region of the U.S. and travel to as many baseball parks to see as many games as they could.
I don’t know all the positions he played, but I know he pitched, and he practiced his pitching with an invisible ball all the time. He’d do this on walks, in the house while moving from the living room to the kitchen, even waiting in line at a restaurant.
He did the scheduling for and played and umped for a huge baseball recreation center in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. Everyone knew him there, and he knew everyone. (This was not distinct to baseball — Jesse’s dad never met a stranger.)
I once had a student named Semaj. It was the name his father, James, gave him. Semaj is James spelled backwards.
“What a gift,” I said, “You are from him, but you are not him.” How much more empowering (and freeing) than adding a Jr. or Roman numeral to one’s name.
I still believe this is a gift, but it is a gift that requires discernment and trust in not only what we are capable of, but also what we could be capable of. It is the willingness to consider and to try for what could be that takes imagination and confidence.
Jesse’s dad had that in spades.
So I think I will keep my idea to write a baseball poem this week because my father-in-law would’ve given it a go, no doubt. I bet he’d write several and all of them would rhyme, and all of them would be funny.
I think that’s the gift of poetry — like baseball, like anything we love. There is no one right way to love it. What’s important is that it is shared.
Casey at the Bat
The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, “If only Casey could but get a whack at that—
We’d put up even money now, with Casey at the bat.” …
Read the rest of Casey at the Bat!
This week, write a poem about baseball. It can be a concrete or object poem (a poem that takes the shape of something like a baseball bat, baseball, baseball diamond, or peanuts and cracker jacks). It could also be a list poem or an acrostic. Take yourself (and us) to the ballgame!
Browse writing prompts
I have been a fan of Callie Feyen’s writing for quite some time but I finished this book in almost one sitting. If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie.