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TOOLS OF IGNORANCE

“[the term] tools of ignorance...was meant to be ironic, contrasting the intelligence needed by a catcher to handle the duties of the position with the foolishness needed to play a position hazardous enough to require so much protective equipment.” -- From www.baseball-reference.com

What is life, but hazardous enough to require
so much protective equipment? What is life
but the slow gathering of a nest, the sometimes
abrupt pulling-towards-you of a shield to place
around your heart? What is life but the way, once,
walking toward the hospital, I made a fist & forced
the first lone animal of a tear to stop its wild journey
down my cheek? & how I turned my face away
from the cars on Second Ave? & averted every gaze
from every person in the concave-mirrored
funhouse aquarium that is the world? & the cars
went by anyway. & no one ever stopped. & even
the lights turned green & said go on. I wanted to say
I am scared, to become a catcher behind the plate
rising from his crouch to pull off every piece
of padding before he walked off the field. But I
dammed that river, step by step, until it became
my heart. What is life but that? I think grace
is only what I want to give myself, never
what I give. Sometimes love is the loneliest
feeling in the world. No wonder the gathering
of what we need to keep us safe. No wonder
the way we wonder about damage. No wonder
why even recovery sounds like a broken word.
It holds a cut inside. It sings a high-pitched tune.
Some days, I’d rather put my worst helmet on.
Some days, I’d rather surrender to the wreckage.

 

THE OLD CATCHER CONSIDERS THE FAILING OF HIS KNEES

All I did was hide. I made myself so small
I could not be touched. I knew each player
by what they thought was invisible — the twice-tapped
cleat on the batter’s box back line, the little prayer
one whispered: deliver me this, & I will deliver this
for you
. I watched their anxiety — how lonely it felt,
how lonely it always is to witness someone
turn their worry into the twitching of a finger,
something muttered, a glance to the sky as if the sky
might forgive each of us our wrongs.
The sky brought the light that hid the ball.
The sky threw shadows I called a curveball through.
When the pain came, I wondered why.
They pulled the chips from my joint & I kept them
in a glass. Look, I know. What isn’t broken
just isn’t broken yet. Jesus, I know. & someone
can spend their whole life hiding away their grief
& then find themselves crying in the dairy aisle of a store
while they hold the mint chip & vanilla,
because the mystery is gone, & with it, hope,
because someone said you don’t have a choice, said
you have to stop, & they were right, & you thought
they were wrong, & you spent your paycheck on tiger balm
& beer, rubbing each into your body until you felt
like liquid poured from a kaleidoscope.
I don’t get it. How what you love can kill you,
even if you spend your whole life loving it.
Even if you love it small. Even if you curl up in its palm.
Somewhere now, someone is whispering a list
of everything they’re scared of but no one
seems to hear them. Somewhere now, the wind
cuts through a promise being made, & breaks it.
There’s that story of the man who walked into the light
&, because of the light, could not see a thing.
Who played that trick on us, that long & lonely trick?

 

WISHING I WAS LOOKING DOWN AT BASEBALL DIAMONDS FROM AN AIRPLANE WINDOW

Most days I want to feel smaller. I want to slip
between the slits between your fingers. I want to put
my whole head in your lap & have your whole lap
swallow this whole small drowning of me. I want
to see myself inside myself the way I see the world
from a high height: all easy to grasp & portioned.
I want to know my sorrow is not as great as I imagine.
I want to know, if it is, that it is as large as it is.
If my sorrow is large, it might as well be an ocean.
It might as well be the forest you don’t mistake
for a copse of trees, the forest you walk into & return —
decades later — a wolf. I don’t want the short way home.
I want baseball on the radio. I want to pause by the river
& listen to the game go on. I don’t want to talk. I miss
so much. The simpleness of childhood. Everything I didn’t
know. My father’s fingers pinching my legs on the long
drive toward his mother’s. My mother in the bleachers
at Yankee Stadium, telling Paul O’Neil that she loved him.
Everything is before what will happen happens.
Grief softens the sharpest axe away from the blade.
Turn the game down low. Drive the long way home.
Whisper the way the trees whisper, each soft & swishing
limb reminding you that even the wind must miss
all it passes through, once it passes through.

 

image: Aaron Burch


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