Learning Strategy at English Field

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Learning Strategy at English Field

by Darnell Arnoult
Southern Cultures, Vol. 8, No. 4: Ghosts

"He is cocky. He's also cute and a good kisser."

C. P.’s outlaws versus the Martinsville Oilers.
Hotdogs and popcorn fill Friday night air
along with moths that flutter and flirt with
danger in the field lights.
Mothers put their two cents in. Ask occasional questions
of the men who talk to each other,
their deep gravelly voices facing the playing field.
Fathers judge ball speed, weigh batting stance,
third baseman’s charge, pitcher’s windup, the balk,
short’s scoop and fire to first. They call for double plays,
measure the power of the catcher’s legs,
how fast his mask comes off.
Weaver, policeman, sander, insurance man,
painter, doctor, lawyer, teacher,
foreman, yardman, mailman, preacher.
Their sons are scattered across the diamond
cupped in advertisements for WMVA, Blacky’s Texaco,
Red Man Chew, First Baptist Church,
Dixie Pig Pit Cooked Bar-B-Q, and STP.
A fast ball smacks the glove on third
then rockets to first—policeman to preacher.
A mother jumps on the concrete bleacher.
Claps and fidgets and does a hip walk in her seat.
She prays for a third out.

I am a girlfriend. A cheerleader. A rising senior.
In part mistaken, I think I am listening and watching
to learn the game of baseball. If not for a boyfriend,
I would have no interest in the game.
An initiate spectator, I have not grasped
the mental energy of baseball:
telepathy between pitcher and catcher,
constant tension between the batter and pitcher,
pitcher and basemen, basemen and runners,
stealer and pitcher, catcher and batter.
SAwing batter! Swing!
I can only faintly appreciate the music of a hard ball
kissing the sweet spot of a wooden bat. It is still lost on me—
the dance of a runner in a pickle,
the warrior scrimmage as the third-base runner
goes for the steal and the catcher defends home.
I foolishly think I am learning baseball:
pass balls on third strikes, pop flies, fielder’s choice,
fast balls, curve balls, spit balls, grease balls,
high balls, low balls, inside, outside, bunts,
line drives, foul tips, steals, the sacrifice—
sacrifice fly, sacrifice bunt, sacrifice play on the runner,
So many sacrifices.

My boyfriend’s mother shares her popcorn.
I clap when she claps. Yell when she yells.
Fidget when she fidgets. Smile when she smiles.
All the while I think I’m learning baseball.
I watch her son, the third baseman.
He rests between batters, his right hip
shoved out to be a resting place
for the back of his gloved hand.
He spits absently and watches
the pitcher approach the rubber.
He is cocky. He’s also cute and a good kisser.
I forgive his arrogance for love. For his sake
I watch and learn and get my mind around
with what I can in the little time I have left.
Come August he will pass on baseball at Carson Newman.
I’ll turn in my pompoms a year early.
I’ll work half-days and he’ll join the Marines.
The Cards will play the Braves in a three-game series.
Our honeymoon nights will be spent in Atlanta Stadium.
Our honeymoon days will be spent dodging rhinos
in his parents’ Galaxy 500 at Lion Country Safari
and riding the roller coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia—
a preview of things to come.
I will throw up whatever I eat. I will lose before I gain.
By May I will be a mother finished senior English
and he will make Lance Corporal and move us to Lejeune.
Our old paths will be unrecoverable
except through our son and daughter.

Fourteen years later, I shift my attention
from the memory of a third baseman
to the short stop-gone-catcher
who, in the hesitation of play,
pushes out his right hip to make a resting place
for the back of his gloved hand.
He spits absently and pulls his mask over his face.
A girl somewhere in the stands
writes his name over and over in her notebook.
He squats as the pitcher addresses the rubber.
I am out of my seat as he pops up out of his crouch.
With amazing quickness he flings off his mask,
and backs up first.
Other players’ fathers, in the absence of his, nod to me,
acknowledging a job well done.
Unlike this catcher’s grandmother, I am forced out
of my element. I bridge the distance
between fidgeting mothers and voyeuristic fathers.
I am chastised by the blind tournament umpire,
my ex-mother-in-law in it right alongside me.
She shares her popcorn, watches and judges
her grandson, and me—often conspiring in my strategy.
I am here, in the bleachers, willing a win
across the distance only a mother can fathom.

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