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.

At Thirteen

My parents left the house.
They left me alone.

I am less alone than when they are present.
I will be less alone for ten days.

The dog is asleep.
We walked seven miles.

We walked that distance as a delaying tactic
so my parents would be gone

by the time the dog and I
returned to the house.

The dog gives little woofs
through her sleep.

The TV plays without sound
so the dog may sleep

with her head on my thigh
on the couch were she is forbidden.

My mind rotates through subjects
just as the TV slow motion baseball rotates

on its way to home plate
to complete its part of the pitch.

A squirrel looks in from the window.
It presses paws to glass.

It knows this is the spot
where my parents place peanuts to attract it.

This spot is adjacent to the door
that allows the dog into the yard.

When the squirrel sees I do not move
it jumps on to the bird feeder

and knocks its willy-nilly
so seed scatters on to patio stones.

The squirrel scoops up the seed.
The TV shortstop scoops up a ground ball.

A double play is turned to end the inning.
The dog repositions her sleeping head.


copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Riverwest Neighborhood

I saw you
on the bus stop bench.
Perched really.
Feet on flat wooden slats.
You held a sunflower
from your garden.

Sparrows darted about
the ground where
last night’s popcorn
lay scattered about.

On the bus
as you passed by
the sunflower
started conversations.
Talk of this years corn yield.
Sunflower seeds
drop from so many lips half spit.
The bus floor resembled
a baseball dugout.


copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

postscript

Riverwest is a Milwaukee, WI neighborhood north of the downtown beyond Brewers Hill. As the name implies it is west of the Milwaukee river. It is an artsy neighborhood where I hung out quite a bit.

Barnstorming

Before rapture
and the second coming
with all its earthly implications,
Jesus snuck out of heaven
many times, in many incarnations,
to visit earth as a highly touted
baseball prospect,
traversing the minor leagues
and independent leagues
to fulfill his dream
of playing centerfield
for the Cubs.


copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney

Heaven On Earth

Paul played baseball.
He did not play a mean game of baseball.
He did not play all out or all in.

Paul played baseball barefoot.
He played the outfield where the clover grew thick.
He played where the bees droned floret to floret.

Paul figured heaven was a continuous ballgame
where men and women players rotated into the lineup
and picnic baskets never emptied.


copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney