A hypothetical exploration in this week’s poem, “Playing Catch,” by poet Tim Seibles, published in Ploughshares. What if all the world’s balls disappeared? What then? How hard will we fall when the crutches are kicked out from under us?:
for Hermann Michaeli
On the day the balls disappeared, men playing soccer
suddenly looked like crazy people chasing invisible
rabbits through the short grass. Men playing baseball
became more clearly what they’d always been: bored
teenagers waiting around for something to happen.
Spectators, at home and in the stands, believed
they were being jerked around by a player
conspiracy, that this was the first whimper
of another strike that would cancel all the fun.
On the day the balls disappeared, the sun did not
smear its way up above the dew-damp rooftops as if this
were a day to keep your finger on. And if all the umps and refs
overslept that morning, it only meant they were a little extra
tired of instant replay highlighting their best mistakes.
In fact, it was a good Saturday: sunlight the color of a canary—
everybody was outside! I remember one woman in particular,
alone in the schoolyard practicing lay-ups. Each time
she left the ground she balanced the basketball like
a breakable thing, then let it slip off her long
white fingers toward the rim.
It had been August for more than a month and, as usual,
the televisions were jam-packed with sports: preseason
football, golf, baseball, soccer, some rugby . . . If you didn’t
know better watching TV could make you think the world
was really just a million fields separated by a few
rivers and roads—that life was, in essence, a chance
to love one of the many artificial spheres.
I guess they went all at once or, at least, within
the same fifteen minutes. I had been watching the U.S.
Open Tennis Championships when Pete Sampras, ready
to serve, gestured to the ball boy who quickly
pointed at the other and shrugged, hoping not
to be blamed. People in the stadium began whistling
and stomping their feet. I went to the fridge
and grabbed a plum.
But I remember noticing
a boy and his sister across the street playing catch
in the yard half-framed by my kitchen window.
He had a new red glove. She was a lefty and
brown as coffee, and, just to show off, she whipped
the throw just above his reach.
A moment later
he yelled, I can’t find it—I don’t see it—
it ain’t out here! She thought he just wanted her
to go get it, just to get on her nerves. She thought
he was just kidding around.