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How to Pitch a Full Count photo

Kneeling in her skirt in the clay, Mom recites
her morning prayer—in place of folded hands,

a catcher’s mitt. I rock back, plant my heel
on the mound, my knee floats to my chin.

I trace the windup with my elbow, my arm like a wing
unfurling, red lace licking off my feathertips.

I’m nine, fourth grade, her only son.
I know only one pitch—fast, fast, fast.

A seminary student in her first year—
a year ago my father left.

Her boyfriend now is married, I think.
He comes after dinner some days and leaves

when I’m in bed. All night Mom mutters Hebrew
at the keys of her typewriter, inky hammers

clapping paper, like a pitch counter. In the morning,
Mom parks with me in the gravel lot at Grover’s Mill.

At the plate, she frays the gray bell of her skirt,
for me, plays pitch and catch like a stoning.

Stee-rike, she says and stands and slips
from her hand the dusty mitt cradling the ball.

A bruise rings the bowl of her catching palm,
in place of a wedding band, a bull’s eye.

In the infield, Mom offers her hand for me to hold.
Instead, I circle the purple smudge of her palm

with my index finger, gentle now. She whispers,
laughs, calls me her doubting Thomas.

Mom walks ahead to warm the car, idles
while I scrape my cleats on the backstop.

image: Aaron Burch