Ninety MPH

Two boys line up against each other.
One on the pitcher’s mound.
The other in the batter’s box.

Sixty feet six inches
takes point four seconds from the release
of the ball from the pitcher’s hand

to reflect light waves to the batter’s eye
as it rises high and tight
heading for his chin.

It is a message sent about territorial possession
and who really owns the batter’s box
and its chalk lines.

The batter has point two five seconds
to process the ball in flight
and decide whether to swing

let the ball pass into the catcher’s mitt
or get his face out of the way
of the spinning white sphere with red seams.

If the batter is in the slightest way distracted
his motor flight response jerks his limbs
a little too late

and the ball imprints its seams
on his cheek or jaw
or (if he is lucky) his helmet

and the crowd’s collective breath holds
an astonished note as dust rises and settles
to see if the batter does the same.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Abstract

I looked for Paul under the nautilus shell.
It was one of his favorite hiding places
when he felt the gods were upset with him.

My second thought was the bar
where the cocktail waitresses dressed like angels
with the false promise of falling.

That failing I tried the bushes
where the white-crowed sparrows liked to gather
and discuss bird feeder banquets.

Then I remembered it was Saturday afternoon
and a baseball game played out in the park
with bleachers brimming with uproarious little league parents.

There he was quietly stealing signs
but keeping the information to himself
instead of giving one side or the other advantage.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Activist

I was six when I was taught
to wash my hands with soap and water.

That was the age I was tall enough
to reach the sink and the bar of soap.

I learned to fill the air with reciting
one of several poems from Now We Are Six

that took at least twenty seconds
to scrub my hands long enough.

I did the math to calculate
that boys three times older than myself

fought the Vietnam War
and died in the jungles and on the hillsides.

In the TV news reels I saw
only a few of the soldiers had clean hands.

This began my daily protests.
Not about the Vietnam war.

But about washing my hands before supper
after playing baseball all afternoon.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Bush League

Lisa walked over to the park across the street,
carried a can in one hand and a brush in the other
and a hand cloth in her left hip pocket.

She painted a big red X on the grass about half way
from the shortstop position and the bare spot
where the left fielder would stand.

Lisa left a note stating: My prophetic dream
marks this spot to be where a meteor
will strike in a fiery blaze of heavenly glory
.

Even with the outfielders and infielders avoiding
the big red X with the superstitious fastidiousness
of a player on a forty-nine game hitting streak,

William, Lisa’s bloop-hitting nephew, increased
his batting average by only four points
during the two weeks it took the grass to grow

tall enough for the park services lawn mower
to clip away all the foreboding.

copyright © 2021 Kenneth P. Gurney

Dissociation

I divorce my brain fog.
I divorce my tear smeared history.

My North Sea storm tossed vessel.
My sandy longing seeking the far shore.

I divorce my random disappearances.
My Civil War battlefield archeology.

I divorce my overindulgences
in dark chocolate and baseball.

I divorce my passive-aggressive taunts.
My afternoon sports talk television.

I divorce my willful ignorance.
My voiceless suffering.

I divorce my penchant for wishbones
long shots and Hail Marys.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Draft Day

Leon died in the middle of analyzing stats
before making his next fantasy baseball selection.

The pigeons at his window did not notice.
The people on the street did not notice, either.

He had created many pages sorted by position.
He had ranked each player.

Some of the players were crossed out in pencil.
Others were circled in blue ink.

There was an asterisk beside Mad Bum.
There was an em-dash into the margin by Anthony Rizzo.

The maid found him slumped over his desk.
His laptop computer open to a draft webpage.

She knew better than to clean his study.
Or straighten his papers with rows of numbers.

A number of instant messages prompted him
to make his next pick.

The top message informed him he timed out
and lost the pick for that round.

An email waited in his inbox informing him
he had been disqualified from the league

for not completing the draft
and his entry fee would not be refunded.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Bargaining

I was thirteen.
I was cast as a nineteen year old.

The casting director
was my thirteen year old friend who wanted beer.

I was cast
to walk into a liquor store and purchase a six pack.

He wanted Heineken.
We had just enough money for Red White & Blue.

Yes. Red White & Blue—
a brand of beer originally brewed by Pabst.

It was very patriotic.
It saw its best sales during World War Two.

It is a dead brand now.
Current Pabst executives consider resurrecting it, but don’t.

I was cast to be a nineteen year old
because I was six feet five inches tall at thirteen.

My friend was barely five-seven
in his stocking feet.

My friend thought I would do this bit of theater
for three of the six cans.

I did this bit of theater
for his Ron Santo autographed baseball.

The liquor store clerk
never looked high enough to see my young face.

My friend and I ran into contract difficulties
while making this a recurring role.

The next time he cast me to be nineteen,
I asked for his Ernie Banks autographed baseball card.

It would have been easier
to pry St. Peter’s bones away from the Pope.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

America’s Game

This poem does not contain a baseball
whether professional grade, softball,
or that peculiar Chicago oversized softball.

If it did contain a baseball,
the poem would center on my childhood dreams
of playing outfield for the Cubs.

Since this poem is not about baseball,
I could make it about race relations in New Mexico
outside of the Isotopes and city leagues.

I could make about the first girl I fell for,
but she played fast pitch softball
and often struck me out during coed leagues.

I could make this poem about the pandemic
and the incompetent federal response
and the heroic efforts by the front line workers,

but that would bring me back to baseball
and negotiations between players and owners
on how to split up billions and billions of dollars

when I think they should donate all their net revenue
to support baseball fans who lost their jobs
due to the shutdowns.

Everyone would become a baseball supporter
under that monetary incentive.
Baseball would be America’s Game again.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Curve Ball

Curve Ball

Paul calls at one a. m.
I can’t sleep, he says.

Are you okay?
I thought the virus would be over
.

Like a flash flood from a storm
that tears away a few shingles.

We switch from phones
to FaceTime.

A spoon barely projects out of
a carton of ice cream.

He wears his Cubs cap in bed.
His eyes dart to and from the camera.

I needed to be sure of you.
I sent a check for the fifty bucks I owe you.

This goes on for an hour.
I fix a snack of cheese and crackers.

I pour a glass of almond milk.
I get seven words in edgewise.

After Paul hangs up I fall back to sleep,
dream us playing catch.

A green baseball with little red prongs
that sticks to our fingers for the filthiest curve ball.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Mike

The last mass you attended
you were in the coffin
that kept you dry
from the million tears
a hundred mourners shed.

It has been decades
since you dressed in altar boy white
and performed your sacred trust
knowing your papa would treat us
to ice cream soon after the benediction.

I remember how you waited
for spring to warm enough
to dry the cold ground
so a ball striking a swung bat
did not sting so much.

I remember the night
you ate nine bananas on a dare
before you drank your first pint
while the Friday night fish fried.

During the regular season
I miss calling you up
and talking baseball for hours.
Conversation interspersed with the updates
on family and friends.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

postscript

Like many of my poems this one is a mix of fact and fiction. Mike and I met in our 30s. We played on the same softball team. We became friends with baseball as one of our focuses—both MLB and the APBA baseball simulation game.

Mike passed away last year. I began thinking about him again as Spring training started up because he and I would have been on the phone talking about the upcoming season and the reports on which rookies looked promising.