The river was off-limits, but occasionally a foul ball would fly back
over the press box, over the narrow drive
and down the hill,
and there we were—where what we called the ballpark rock
jutted into the Etowah.
On hot nights the stench would make us gag.
Two miles below the rendering plant
and chicken parts still flooded up in the pool beyond the rock—
clots of dirty feathers, feet,
an occasional head with glazed eyes wide.
We’d hold our noses and try to breathe through our mouths.
Once though, the smell was too much
and we had to give it up.
Listen, it wasn’t what you think. It was only Little League,
and they gave us free ice cream
for retrieving a foul. No, we weren’t overcome
by thoughts of filth, disease,
or fish kills. We were running down a long hill, dodging
trees and undergrowth, trying
to find a ball before it found the river.

Copyright © 2018 David Bottoms. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.