Right Field

No kid I knew ever hit a really long ball—
to left, maybe, but not to my island,
my abandoned kingdom in right.
I'd pick dandelions,
rub spit in my glove,
study the frayed lacing.
Even then I was waiting for something:
a cloud, rain, a huge crow to flutter
onto the diamond and lift me
beyond the dull ache in my ribs.

They were ahead, no outs.
I dreamed of a warm purple lake and
a ball began to rise toward deep right center.
No one knew about my appendicitis,
not my mother, and not my coach,
Mr. Glen Bitterbender,
the first grown man I heard utter,
"Jesus, have I got a hard-on."

That ball climbed the afterdinner sky,
peaked as a wave surged through me.
Glen Bitterbender bellowed,
"Hustle, you little bastard!"
I sprinted, howling, my gut on fire.
The runner at third waltzed in;
behind him jogged the guy from second.
In that expanse of parched grass,
my ankle found the lone sprinkler head.

I did this dance of death,
tribal, an insane contortion.
The ball dropped like a meteor,
smacked my left big toe.

I'll never know how I got my glove down there,
never even felt it slap the pocket.
"To second!" the coach barked.
"Throw the damn thing to second."
I lobbed it in on two hops for the double,
and from second the relay and force at third.

Triple play.

We didn't win that game.
We didn't win any game.
After my surgery, Coach Bitterbender
brought me three lemon cupcakes.
Next season he called, his voice cracking,
to tell me I'd been cut.
The season after,
drowsing in his recliner,
sports page draped across his eyes,
his heart tore loose from its worn stitching.

Once again,
through the summer dusk,
high above the backstop,
above the stubby hemlocks along Fremont Avenue,
the ball, my secret star, is rising.
   I got it   I got it
And the mothers—not mine—
jump from their folding chairs to cheer
the pale boy they thought too small to play.
They watch me hobble in, nimble,
clutching my side.
My face is a mask.
Pain to me is normal, a way of life.
Glen Bitterbender pats my cheek.
"Sweet, Eddie. Now that was sweet."
I shake my stinging hand and grin.

Ed Harkness | Mudlark No. 13
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