First Base

“First Base”

This ancient thing that must be done
Requires the death of one man’s time,
A prayer before it is begun,
The island quiet of rhyme.

Just as twelve years ago we fell
To madness that begot a son
And broke all caution in the spell
Of conjugation,

So now the fire must be set,
The dishes put away, the door
Locked fast that nothing hoarse might fret
The birth of metaphor.

Am I a fool to solemnize
With invocations to the muses
These mere suburban alibis,
Confessions, or excuses?

Come, lady, then, and lead the fool
Across the freeway by the mall,
And past the public swimming-pool
Left of the city hall,

And out through naked tracts and parks,
To where the sunlit streets are bare,
To outfields where the meadowlarks
Tweedle upon the air.

Honor forbids my son to notice me,
Setting his baseball cap against the glare.
First baseman, he must watch the catcher’s sign,
Intimidate the batter with his stare,
Anchor the fielding into one design,
And be the very animal and form
Of his position in the baseball team,
As bulls and meadowlarks fulfill the norm
Designate for them by the chromosome.
These cardinals, these cubs, these senators,
How perfectly professional they seem,
Eleven-year-old gum-chewing matadors!
Wordsworth thought such a theater would come
Between the boy and his eternal home,
But what if we must all invent our being?
Is then the “master-light of all our seeing”
The actor’s concentration on his part?
Then why this pain that brushes at my heart?

I am a stranger from another universe;
This is as strange to me as the horse-games of Turkestan,–
Carcass of lamb that is torn among bridegiving tribesmen.
I am from Marx’s Europe, the England of slums and the Beatles,
I am from Arthur’s table, from the France of Cezanne and Courbet,
I am the last colonial, the sun went down on my childhood
In Northern Rhodesia, the drums rumbled all night and
My father read to me Shakespeare in the roar of the pressure-lamp;
I am from Virgil’s Campania, from Homer’s Peloponnese;
My mind was formed by the Huxleys, by Einstein and Wittgenstein,
Eliot, Yeats, and the songs of the English Renaissance;
I am the heir of Hegel, of Nietzsche, of Freud,
Born and raised in the throb of the flying bomb.
My weather’s the fitful rain of Europe,
The smoky taste of the last of the Industrial Revolution,
The ambiguous cloudlands and definite soil of the Old World,
The damp snow on the bus-stop bench that seeped through my
Trouser pocket and soaked my packet of Woodbines,
My wadded handkerchief, my pink ten-shilling note.

And what am I doing in Plano, Texas, on this hot after-
Noon in summer, the thunderclouds clear on the horizon like
Grotesque pieces of matte sunlit china, like
Stuffed toys to be given to baby dinosaurs, like the
Sound of a big rock band tuning up in a stadium?
What am I doing in Plano, with its malls and pyramids?

But what have they been doing there in Europe?
My brave son Ben, watching the pitch come down,
Must teach impossible progenitors
How to be parents to a Texan child;
And over there in Warsaw, Budapest,
And East Berlin they wash the bloody hands
Of Beethoven and Sartre, and gently show
Their blood-drunk parents just how to be free.
All that I know of baseball comes from Ben.
How is it I am rooted now in him?
Where did he get that authenticity
That makes him pluck with fine unconsciousness
The wrinkle from his pants, and crack his gum?
Raised in a laundry in the Pennine Hills,
His mother is Chinese and loves Racine.

At school they teach him (in the best modern way)
How Hannibal’s elephants crossed the Alps,
How to bow smoothly between bridge and thumb,
Of the white ratios of geometry:
But what is it makes him a Texican?

The new world being born, I helped it come.
Out of its mother’s belly,
of all its ancestors
the fruit, of many seeds, mine being one,
it turned its head and smiled.
Do I betray it now, with this private consciousness,
this slacker form, designed
to opt out of the game?–
thus wars and holocausts too cruel to name–?
I fall into the rhyme,
betray the betrayal.

Evening’s coming. Under the stormcloud
the tired sunlight on the bleachers turns to orange
the white logos on the parents’ tee-shirts,
the white parabolas of their Nike Airs.

Now already the knotted concepts I shaped to stagger
The cruel march of historicism, the smooth slide I polished
At the edge between word and world to trap the haters of humankind,
My carillons of mental bells poured in their melodious foundries,
All these are owned by younger men and women, scholars,
Poets, and they know them and use them better than I ever could,
Being accustomed, as I was not, to my newfangled landscape.
The birds and animals are no longer shy around my constructions.
Their masters, the shepherds and shepherdesses, sing them my songs.
Happy, I pass my possessions on to them; now I prepare for my
Metamorphosis into another being, smelling of
Evening, of thunderstorms over the horizon, of darkening grass.

But soon the floodlights are turned on,
As Plano tilts against the sky,
And endless time piles up above
The ballfield’s little lighted octagon;

An orange skin of evening glows
Beneath the bluelit towers of cloud;
A few drops fall, the game goes on;
The warm, coyote-smelling wind still blows;

The crackle of an utterance
Above the curvature of plain
Echoes in rumbles from the ground
And holds the players in a moment’s trance;

The batter hits a loaded fly,
Ben edges under it, elbows
His baseball cap out of his eye,
And takes it quickly, fires it home, as I

Marvel how second nature grows
Its subtle graft upon the first;
And now another lightning-burst
Has turned the clouds into a purple rose.

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