In an old photo, I’m crouching by a blackboard,
wearing pajamas, pointing at a line-up
in chalk. And batting fourth, bold-lettered, starred,
appears a forgotten player, Al Pilarcik.
I can’t recall his team or his position.
He was a nobody, but his name enchanted,
the lilting, heft, and click of syllables.
More than the game itself, I loved the names,
murmuring Mickey Mantle, Minnie Minoso,
male counterparts to Marilyn Monroe.
Somehow, I always got the lessons wrong.
A flip-book showing how to swing a bat
instructed me in how to make a movie.
In a real batter’s box, I flinched at pitches,
swung wildly, defensively, my glasses fogged
and falling down my nose. Fear spoiled the sport.
Under a canopy of sycamores
by the Tred Avon River, I tossed a ball
up through the leaves and crooned Duke Maas, Duke Maas,
loving the double “a”—and Gil McDougal.
But pure sound and the euphony of names
gave way to facts—McDougal lined a fastball
right in the eye of Herb Score, pitcher whose name
I also loved to say, and toppled him,
ruining his career as he writhed on the mound.
I could identify with pain like that.
Beauty could find itself in contemplation
of things that hurt, like baseballs hurled and insults
erupting from the opposition’s bench
and faces turned away on your own team.
Remembering embarrassment is to name it,
and names are lovely, tokens of breath, dark roses
that burst in fragrance you can’t help but smell,
even in absence, in the mind alone.
Forget statistics. Names are what endure:
Patroclus, Pindar, Atalanta, Chronos.