Play Ball!

 

“There are three things you can do in a baseball game.  You can win, or you can lose, or it can rain.”

Casey Stengel.

 

Sonnet To Baseball

by Jeffrey Sward

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything;
The aging umpire laughed and leaped with him.
Yet nor the cracks of bats, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the baseball’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion of the glove;
There were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, your pattern sketched in love.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you did call,
As with your shadow, I with these, “Play Ball.”

 

Shakespearean Baseball Sonnet #25

By Michael Ceraolo

Let those whose teams are favored by the stars
Of public honor and proud titles boast,
Whilst the team I follow such triumph bars,
Their not having won what I honor most.
Great cities’ teams are too often favored,
And have been for a century and more
For reasons already much belabored;
But even those of us who know the score
Are hoping against hope for our team’s day,
Keeping a wary eye on our team’s fight,
Hoping to be surprised at our team’s play;
A championship would be a welcome sight.
One day happy will be the team beloved,
With a title never to be removed.

 


For those of you reading this blog who are not baseball fans, you might not realize that today is opening day;  the start of a new season, the promise of a new year.

Baseball is in my blood.  Not because I ever played the game at a level beyond 7th grade, nor was ever any good, but because its part of the flow of the year, it’s part of my relationship with my Mother, it’s part of my daily existence for 8 months of the year from March to October.  I wake up every day during the baseball season and the first thing I do is read the box score of the game for the Minnesota Twins from the night before.  Baseball is part of my daily ritual.

Baseball is one of those sports that divides the world, into those that love it and those that don’t.  For those that don’t, it’s impossible to explain, I’ve tried.  Baseball is a language, a landscape and a history.   Baseball is tragedy, comedy, hope, misery, a never-ending story, a common bond between strangers and a family drama mashed together. Baseball is a connection to a world better than the one we live in, played on a perfect patch of green grass, with the inevitability of triumph, futility, redemption, action, boredom, ineptitude, dedication, grace, athleticism, clumsiness and sloppiness all rolled into one.  Baseball has first beginnings and the ends of eras, all over the course of another season.

Baseball is different from other sports.  It’s not an event, its a timeline, its a discussion, its a year in the life of a team, a city, a player and a fan.  It’s the most blue-collar of all sports and I’m not talking about their salaries or the cost of a ticket, I’m talking about the work ethic to be good at it.  A baseball season consists of 28 to 30 preseason games, followed by 162 regular season games, followed by 3 rounds of the playoffs, best of seven.   The eventual World Series Champions will play a minimum of 202 games in one year.  It’s a lunch pail sport in which you have to show up and work hard, every day.  It’s a game in which the best and worst team in the league will each win 60 games and lose 60 games.  It’s what happens in the other 42 that separate the best from the worst.  Its a game in which the best hitters will fail .666 percent of the time and be proud of their success one in three times to the plate. It’s a sport where we become attached to the rhythm of the season and individual careers, where you connect to the 20 year veteran or the one year wonder, the career minor league player who is called up in September to have their cup of coffee in the big leagues before starting the rest of their lives doing something else.  Its a game where every year we watch a new rookie phenom launch their yet to be determined hall of fame career and the aging veteran that plays their last game and tips their hat to the crowd.  Its a game, where as I aged, I rooted for the rookie that was my age, then rooted for the oldest player in the league that was my age, and now root for the players that are my children’s ages and someday, if I am lucky, will root for players that will be my grand children’s ages.  Its a game where the retiring veterans mentor the next generation and the rookies inspire hope in the most grizzled cynic.   It’s the circle of life, playing out, year after year. If this sounds grandiose, then you don’t understand my version of baseball.

Mostly, baseball is a game that connects me to the memories of my Mother.  Through thick and thin, the inevitable issues that arise in Mother-son relationships, we could always talk about baseball.  “How about that box score” was a phrase that brought us back round to what was important more than once, not baseball, but our relationship.  It was our secret code to drop the bullshit and get on with it!

Baseball connected my Mother and I when she lived in Saudi Arabia and I called her in the middle of the night to tell her Kirby Pucket and Kent Hrbek had carried the day and won the World Series in 1987.   Baseball tied us together for the 28 years when she lived in New York and then Oakland and we would plan a trip in June to watch the last game of the year in September, either in Minnesota or Oakland, whether the teams were good or not, and were fortunate to watch our team win the division in the final series of the year in more years than we ever believed possible. We went to a game of baseball as part of her visit to Minnesota or my visit to see her every year.  Baseball is a game that regardless of the outcome of the games we went to watch together, we enjoyed each other’s company and the 9 inning conversation that ensued about our lives.   It’s a game that brought out the best in our relationship and reminded us of what fun it is to be a fan of life.

Baseball is just a game in which one person throws a ball and the other tries to hit it where no one can catch it and how ridiculously hard that simple concept is. It’s a game where skill and luck and human fallibility play an equal role in success and failure.  Sound familiar?

Play ball…..Go Twins!

P.S. My mother and I used to have Limerick contests.  She usually won, but here’s one of my few winning entries…


A Pitcher Named Sylvester

by T. A. Fry

There once was a pitcher named Sylvester
Who had trouble with his pants polyester.
When during his windup
His pants would bind up
The parts that make him a mister.

He tried wearing a larger size jock.
And not tucking his pants into his socks.
But the only solution
To stop the contusion
Was to switch from pants to a frock.

His new uniform caused quite a twitter.
The fans jeered and threw at him litter.
But he stuck out his tongue
And won the Cy-Young.
While striking out the leagues best hitters!

My Love Is Like To Ice

file1-1
Greenland Ice Cap – Photograph by Olaf Otto Becker 2008.
Fire And Ice

by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Amoretti XXX: My Love is like to ice, and I to fire

BY EDMUND SPENSER
My Love is like to ice, and I to fire:
How comes it then that this her cold so great
Is not dissolved through my so hot desire,
But harder grows the more I her entreat?
Or how comes it that my exceeding heat
Is not allayed by her heart-frozen cold,
But that I burn much more in boiling sweat,
And feel my flames augmented manifold?
What more miraculous thing may be told,
That fire, which all things melts, should harden ice,
And ice, which is congeal’d with senseless cold,
Should kindle fire by wonderful device?
Such is the power of love in gentle mind,
That it can alter all the course of kind.

I have an obscure interest in first person accounts of arctic exploration from about 1880 to 1930.  This was a period when men and women still traveled and explored for the sheer adventure of being the first to go some where.  My favorite writers are Knud Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen, two college friends, who established the Thule trading station in Greenland as a way to support their real goals, which was to accomplish many firsts exploring the uncharted territory of Greenland and northern Canada and along the way record the ethnography and history of the people of the frozen North. Rasmussen and Freuchen had no interest in going to the North Pole, for it lacked the one thing that fascinated them the most – the Intuit people.

Rasmussen was a anthropologist who was collecting the stories and oral history of the Intuit.  Rasmussen and Freuchen both embraced the Intuit way of life, the people and their culture and were uniquely suited for this task.  Rasmussen was the son of Missionary and an Intuit woman, who was raised in a traditional village in Greenland, but returned to Denmark for his college education where he met Fruechen.  His tales of Greenland and its rugged spirit, inspired the two friends to set out on a life long series of adventures that stand to this day as some of the most remarkable journeys in arctic history.

Freuchen and Rasmussen
Peter Freuchen and Knud Rasmussen

The two of them accomplished what I consider to be the most incredible arctic feat of exploration ever – the unsupported Fifth Thule expedition.  The expedition set out to scientifically prove the origin of the Inuit people, and collect the evidence to help the rest of the world have a broader understanding of this remarkable culture.  In a completely self sufficient, unsupported and unresupplied expedition, 7 people on dogsled set out from Greenland to cross over the ice to Canada. After a year of careful documentation  of the people and ancient sites of Eastern northernmost Canada, several of the members of the expedition were physically unable to continue, including Freuchen, who suffered extreme frost bite on one leg, eventually resulting in its amputation below the knee. Rasmussen was undeterred and would continue with one man and one woman for 2 and half more years.  The three of them would cover 18,000 miles over the course of three years of traversing and criss-crossing all of Northern Canada, across the bearing straight into Russia, only to be denied further passage by Russian authorities, and then back to Alaska, to catch passage and sail back to Greenland. Rasmussen published his journey and scientific findings in a seven volume set and proves what Rasmussen himself accomplished, which is the Intuit people settled the entire top of the world by their ingenuity, athleticism and complete adaptation to the arctic environment.  He proved that even in the most isolated areas of the arctic there was a common language, common stories, common religion, common technologies that tied these people together into one society of origin.

Knud Rasmussen
Knud Rasmussen

Global warming has made the type of expeditions that Rasmussen and Fruechen accomplished impossible, because there is too much unstable ice and open water during the winter in areas that they crossed safely with dog sleds 100 years ago.

The arctic cold has been a natural barrier of protection for the amazing ecosystems of the far north.  An environment that was until recently, only experienced by the native people and few adventurers that had the ability to overcome the austerity of the conditions to thrive in extreme elements.  I fear that with that barrier of ice and cold diminishing, there will be a renewed fervor by governments and business interests to send expeditions to the North in coming years, not to chart its lands and waters  for the sake of pure knowledge and adventure, but to extract samples and create outposts that can facilitate the extraction and exploitation of oil, minerals and natural resources waiting beneath the ice that will be more accessible in the future to a world greedy to strip the arctic of whatever  can be exploited to make a buck.

The Northwest Passage, an elusive dream for hundreds of years, is about to become a normalized shipped lane, open to a wide variety of vessels for long periods during the summer months.   And with the sudden increase in shipping traffic to this fragile ecosystem, bring a whole new level of pressure with unknowable consequences to our planet.  I am sure that neither Peter Freuchen or Knud Rasmussen ever conceived of a reality where their beloved Greenland would be threatened by the melting of the very ice cap that makes Greenland unique.


 

Greenland

By T. A. Fry

I should like to go to Greenland
Where ice calves into blue bays.
I would like to go to Greenland
Before it’s glaciers melt away.

I am in wonder of a Greenland
Where all the green is white.
I ponder what I’ve done Dear
To protect the arctic night.

Can we conceive the sky is warming?
Imagine all that sinks beneath?
Sixty meters of rising water
Our modernity will bequeath.

Do we honestly think we’ll build
Dykes strong enough to hold?
Do we honestly think we’ve willed
A future worthy to behold?

It’ll take a thousand years
To melt every single drop.
Will future Pioneers
Have the will to make it stop?

I should like to go to Greenland.
Just not the Greenland of today.
I’d like to go to a Greenland
Where ice is borne to stay.

 

A Thousand Kisses Deep

roman-mosaic-kiss (1)
Roman Mosaic

 

Carmen 5

by Gaius Valerius Catullus

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love,
And let us judge the rumors of old men
To be the worth of just one penny!
The suns are able to fall and rise:
When that brief light has fallen for us,
We must sleep a never ending night.
Give me a thousand kisses, then another hundred,
Then another thousand, then a second hundred,
Then yet another thousand more, then another hundred.
Then, when we have made many thousands,
We will mix them up so that we don’t know,
And so that no one can be jealous of us when they find out
How many kisses we have shared.

 

 

A Thousand Kisses Deep

by Leonard Cohen

The ponies run,
the girls are young,
The odds are there to beat.

You win a while,
and then it’s done
Your little winning streak.
And summoned now to deal
With your invincible defeat.
You live your life as if it’s real,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

I’m turning tricks,
I’m getting fixed,
I’m back on Boogie Street.

You lose your grip,
and then you slip
Into the Masterpiece.

And maybe I had miles to drive,
And promises to keep:
You ditch it all to stay alive,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

And sometimes when the night is slow,
The wretched and the meek,
We gather up our hearts and go,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

Confined to sex, we pressed against
The limits of the sea:
I saw there were no oceans left
For scavengers like me.

I made it to the forward deck.
I blessed our remnant fleet –
And then consented to be wrecked,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

I’m turning tricks,
I’m getting fixed,
I’m back on Boogie Street.

I guess they won’t exchange the gifts
That you were meant to keep.
And quiet is the thought of you,
The file on you complete,
Except what we forgot to do,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

And sometimes when the night is slow,
The wretched and the meek,
We gather up our hearts and go,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

The ponies run, the girls are young,
The odds are there to beat.
You win a while, and then it’s done
– Your little winning streak.

And summoned now to deal
With your invincible defeat.
You live your life as if it’s real,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

 

Hell Hath No Fury

William Congreve
William Congreve (1670 – 1729)
Zara  Act III
“Can’st thou forgive me then? wilt thou believe
So kindly of my Fault, to call it Madness?
O, give that Madness yet a milder Name,
And call it Passion; then, be still more kind,
And call that Passion Love.”
William Congreve

 

 

End of Act V.
By William Congreve

EPILOGUE

THE Tragedy thus done, I am, you know,
No more a Princess, but in statu quo:
And now as unconcern’d this Mourning wear,
As if indeed a Widow, or an Heir.
I’ve leisure, now, to mark your sev’ral Faces,
And know each Critic by his sowre Grimaces.
To poison Plays, I see some where they fit,
Scatter’d, like Rats-bane, up and down the Pit;
While others watch like Parish-Searchers,
hir’d To tell of what Disease the Play expir’d.
O with what Joy they run, to spread the News
Of a damn’d Poet, and departed Muse!
But if he ‘scape, with what Regret they’re seiz’d!
And how they’re disappointed if they’re pleas’d!
Critics to Plays for the same end resort,
That Surgeons wait on Trials in a Court;
For Innocence condemn’d they’ve no Respect,
Provided they’ve a Body to dissect.
As Sussex Men, that dwell upon the Shoar,
Look out when Storms arise, and Billows roar,
Devoutly praying, with uplifted Hands,
That some well-laden Ship may strike the Sands;
To whose Rich Cargo they may make Pretence,
And fatten on the Spoils of Providence:
So Critics throng to see a New Play split,
And thrive and prosper on the Wrecks of Wit.
Small Hope our Poet from these Prospects draws;
And therefore to the Fair commends his Cause.
Your tender Hearts to Mercy are inclin’d,
With whom, he hopes, this Play will Favour find,
Which was an Off’ring to the Sex design’d.

FINIS


 

 

Home To Your Heart

 

Wallace-Stevens-portrait
Wallace Stevens (1879 – 1955)

 

“One thing I am convinced more and more is true and that is this: the only way to be truly happy is to make others happy. When you realize that and take advantage of the fact, everything is made perfect.”

William Carlos Williams in letter to his Mother, published in Selected Letters 1957.

 

Slow Movement

by William Carlos Williams

All those treasures that lie in the little bolted box whose tiny space is
Mightier than the room of the stars, being secret and filled with dreams:
All those treasures—I hold them in my hand—are straining continually
Against the sides and the lid and the two ends of the little box in which I guard them;
Crying that there is no sun come among them this great while and that they weary of shining;
Calling me to fold back the lid of the little box and to give them sleep finally.

But the night I am hiding from them, dear friend, is far more desperate than their night!
And so I take pity on them and pretend to have lost the key to the little house of my treasures;
For they would die of weariness were I to open it, and not be merely faint and sleepy
As they are now.


I am a little envious of artists whose skill and daring make it possible for them to earn a living as an artist.  I have never had such pluck.  I am in good company when it comes to poets in that regard.  Many of the poets I admire and who helped shape the poetic language of the 20th Century did not make their living as a poet.  William Carlos Williams was a doctor, a general practitioner in Patterson, NY and Wallace Stevens was an executive for a insurance company in New York City.  Either could be the patron saint of the responsible adult toiling daily in a job they may or may not love, but which gives structure and financial stability to their life so that in their free time they can pursue their art.

Both Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams pushed the boundaries of free verse and helped redefine American poetry. William’s wrote in Modern American Poetry (1950); “The job of the poet is to use language effectively, his own language, the only language which is to him authentic.”  Neither WCW or Stevens is known for classical poetry, quite the opposite, they are known for their free verse, and yet, like most poets, the sonnet form is like a siren calling them to the shore, and they are inspired to take their turn in wrestling with tradition.


Explain My Spirit

by Wallace Stevens

Explain my spirit—adding word to word,
As if the exposition gave delight.
Reveal me, lover, to myself more bright.
“You are a twilight, and a twilight bird.”
Again! For all the untroubled senses stirred,
Conceived anew, like callow wings in flight,
Bearing desire toward an upper light.
“You are a twilight, and a twilight bird.”

Burn in my shadows, Hesperus, my own,
And look upon me with a triumphant fire.
Behold, how glorious the dark has grown!
My wings shall beat all night against your breast,
Heavy with music—feel them there aspire
Home to your heart, as to a hidden nest.

 

Breaking Into Blossom

Robert Bly
Robert Bly  (1926 to present)

Seeing The Eclipse in Maine

by Robert Bly

It started about noon.  On top of Mount Batte,
We were all exclaiming.  Someone had a cardboard
And a pin, and we all cried out when the sun
Appeared in tiny form on the notebook cover.

It was hard to believe.  The high school teacher
We’d met called it a pinhole camera,
People in the Renaissance loved to do that.
And when the moon had passed partly through

We saw on a rock underneath a fir tree,
Dozens of crescents—made the same way—
Thousands!  Even our straw hats produced
A few as we moved them over the bare granite.

We shared chocolate, and one man from Maine
Told a joke.  Suns were everywhere—at our feet.

 


Is poetry a monologue or a dialogue?   An old question, easily answered from my perspective;  it is a dialogue, poetry is a conversation, its up to you to figure out the response.

Robert Bly was born in Madison, Minnesota and continues to live and work in Western Minnesota to the present day.   Robert Bly and James Arlington Wright were friends, and helped put Midwestern poetry on the map in the 1950’s.  Bly’s life work as a poet is vast, expanding the wealth of English literature by translating a diverse range of poets across many languages with a focus on the spiritual in addition to his many collections of his own poetry.

I worked in Lac Qui Parle County, the landscape of much of Bly’s poetry, for 7 years in the 1990’s.   Bly may travel the world within his writing, but it is all grounded in the rich clay silt loam of the prairie.  I find it reassuring to see a glimpse of the land I have traveled as an Agronomist for 30 plus years within the poetry of both Bly and Wright.

Bly and Wright traveled very different personal paths in using poetry to wrestle with their demons. Bly being older by one year and yet outliving Wright by 38 years and counting.   Wright’s depression is palpable within his poetry, but rather than lessen the experience it heightens it.  Both Bly and Wright poetry invite a discussion on the wonderment of this planet and the human condition.


A Blessing Poem

by James Arlington Wright (1927 – 1980)

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more, they begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

 

 

While We Glide By

William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963)

Uses of Poetry

by William Carlos Williams

I’ve fond anticipation of a day
O’erfilled with pure diversion presently,
For I must read a lady poesy
The while we glide by many a leafy bay,

Hid deep in rushes, where at random play
The glossy black winged May-flies, or whence flee
Hush-throated nestlings in alarm,
Whom we have idly frighted with our boat’s long sway.

For, lest o’ersaddened by such woes as spring
To rural peace from our meek onward trend,
What else more fit? We’ll draw the latch-string

And close the door of sense; then satiate wend,
On poesy’s transforming giant wing,
To worlds afar whose fruits all anguish mend.


A Letter To William Carlos Willaims

by Kenneth Rexroth

Dear Bill,

When I search the past for you,
Sometimes I think you are like
St. Francis, whose flesh went out
Like a happy cloud from him,
And merged with every lover—
Donkeys, flowers, lepers, suns—
But I think you are more like
Brother Juniper, who suffered
All indignities and glories
Laughing like a gentle fool.
You’re in the Fioretti
Somewhere, for you’re a fool, Bill,
Like the Fool in Yeats, the term
Of all wisdom and beauty.
It’s you, stands over against
Helen in all her wisdom,
Solomon in all his glory.

Remember years ago, when
I told you you were the first
Great Franciscan poet since
The Middle Ages? I disturbed
The even tenor of dinner.
Your wife thought I was crazy.
It’s true, though. And you’re “pure,” too,
A real classic, though not loud
About it—a whole lot like
The girls of the Anthology.
Not like strident Sappho, who
For all her grandeur, must have
Had endometriosis,
But like Anyte, who says
Just enough, softly, for all
The thousands of years to remember.

It’s a wonderful quiet
You have, a way of keeping
Still about the world, and its
Dirty rivers, and garbage cans,
Red wheelbarrows glazed with rain,
Cold plums stolen from the icebox,
And Queen Anne’s lace, and day’s eyes,
And leaf buds bursting over
Muddy roads, and splotched bellies
With babies in them, and Cortes
And Malinche on the bloody
Causeway, the death of the flower world.

Nowadays, when the press reels
With chatterboxes, you keep still,
Each year a sheaf of stillness,
Poems that have nothing to say,
Like the stillness of George Fox,
Sitting still under the cloud
Of all the world’s temptation,
By the fire, in the kitchen,
In the Vale of Beavor. And
The archetype, the silence
Of Christ, when he paused a long
Time and then said, “Thou sayest it.”

Now in a recent poem you say,
“I who am about to die.”
Maybe this is just a tag
From the classics, but it sends
A shudder over me. Where
Do you get that stuff, Williams?
Look at here. The day will come
When a young woman will walk
By the lucid Williams River,
Where it flows through an idyllic
News from Nowhere sort of landscape,
And she will say to her children,
“Isn’t it beautiful? It
Is named after a man who
Walked here once when it was called
The Passaic, and was filthy
With the poisonous excrements
Of sick men and factories.
He was a great man. He knew
It was beautiful then, although
Nobody else did, back there
In the Dark Ages. And the
Beautiful river he saw
Still flows in his veins, as it
Does in ours, and flows in our eyes,
And flows in time, and makes us
Part of it, and part of him.
That, children, is what is called
A sacramental relationship.
And that is what a poet
Is, children, one who creates
Sacramental relationships
That last always.”

.        .With love and admiration,

 .         .Kenneth Rexroth.