after practice: right foot to left foot, stepping forward and back, to right foot and left foot, and left foot up to his thigh, holding it on his thigh as he twists around in a circle, until it rolls down the inside of his leg, like a tickle of sweat, not catching and tapping on the soft side of his foot, and juggling once, twice, three times, hopping on one foot like a jump-roper in the gym, now trapping and holding the ball in midair, balancing it on the instep of his weak left foot, stepping forward and forward and back, then lifting it overhead until it hangs there; and squaring off his body, he keeps the ball aloft with a nudge of his neck, heading it from side to side, softer and softer, like a dying refrain, until the ball, slowing, balances itself on his hairline, the hot sun and sweat filling his eyes as he jiggles this way and that, then flicking it up gently, hunching his shoulders and tilting his head back, he traps it in the hollow of his neck, and bending at the waist, sees his shadow, his dangling T-shirt, the bent blades of brown grass in summer heat; and relaxing, the ball slipping down his back. . .and missing his foot. He wheels around, he marches over the ball, as if it were a rock he stumbled into, and pressing his left foot against it, he pushes it against the inside of his right until it pops into the air, is heeled over his head—the rainbow!— and settles on his extended thigh before rolling over his knee and down his shin, so he can juggle it again from his left foot to his right foot —and right foot to left foot to thigh— as he wanders, on the last day of summer, around the empty field.
From Motion: American Sports Poems, edited by Noah Blaustein. Copyright © 2001 by Christopher Merrill. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
America under the lights
at Harry Ball Field. A fog rolls in
as the flag crinkles and drapes
around a metal pole.
My son reaches into the sky
to pull down a game-ender,
a bomb caught in his leather mitt.
He gives the ball a flat squeeze
then tosses it in from the outfield,
tugs his cap over a tussle of hair
before joining the team—
all high-fives and handshakes
as the Major boys line up
at home plate. They are learning
how to be good sports,
their dugout cheers interrupted only
by sunflower seed shells spat
along the first base line.
The coach prattles on
about the importance of stealing
bases and productive outs
while a teammate cracks a joke
about my son’s ‘fro, then says,
But you’re not really black…
to which there’s laughter,
to which he smiles but says nothing,
which says something about
what goes unsaid, what starts
with a harmless joke, routine
as a can of corn.
But this is little league.
This is where he learns
how to field a position,
how to play a bloop in the gap—
that impossible space where
he’ll always play defense.
Copyright © 2015 January Gill O'Neil. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner. Used with permission of Prairie Schooner.