Poem Of The Week: The Night Game

Tonight I saw one of the best baseball games I have ever seen. It was Mets and Cardinals and Albert Pujols and Johan Santana and everything that game should have been. Mostly it was Albert Pujols. I’ll write about the game, I think, tomorrow. But for now, a poem by Robert Pinsky, The Night Game. I just discovered it a few moments ago, and am smitten. Especially with the little haiku about Whitey Ford you’ll find halfway down. “A mere success,” Pinsky calls Ford. How many people would give up years, limbs, loves for the chance to be a “mere success?” Ask the poet, ask the pitcher (not Ford) Pinsky refers to at the end of this poem:

robert pinsky poet basebal cardSome of us believe
We would have conceived romantic
Love out of our own passions
With no precedents,
Without songs and poetry–
Or have invented poetry and music

As a comb of cells for the honey.

Shaped by ignorance,
A succession of new worlds,
Congruities improvised by
Immigrants or children.

I once thought most people were Italian,
Jewish or Colored.
To be white and called
Something like Ed Ford
Seemed aristocratic,
A rare distinction.

Possibly I believed only gentiles
And blonds could be left-handed.

Already famous
After one year in the majors,
Whitey Ford was drafted by the Army
To play ball in the flannels
Of the Signal Corps, stationed
In Long Branch, New Jersey.

A night game, the silver potion
Of the lights, his pink skin
Shining like a burn.

Never a player
I liked or hated: a Yankee,
A mere success.

But white the chalked-off lines
In the grass, white and green
The immaculate uniform,
And white the unpigmented
Halo of his hair
When he shifted his cap:

So ordinary and distinct,
So close up, that I felt
As if I could have made him up,
Imagined him as I imagined

The ball, a scintilla
High in the black backdrop
Of the sky. Tight red stitches.
Rawlings. The bleached

Horsehide white: the color
Of nothing. Color of the past
And of the future, of the movie screen
At rest and of blank paper.

“I could have.” The mind. The black
Backdrop, the white
Fly picked out by the towering
Lights. A few years later

On a blanket in the grass
By the same river
A girl and I came into
Being together
To the faint muttering
Of unthinkable
Troubadours and radios.

The emerald
Theater, the night.
Another time,
I devised a left-hander
Even more gifted
Than Whitey Ford: A Dodger.
People were amazed by him.
Once, when he was young,
He refused to pitch on Yom Kippur.

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