Chin Music


Watch. My father is about to get knocked on his ass
crossing the playing fields behind Fredonia High School,
Fredonia, New York, where for once
Lake Erie holds to the wrecked shore,
the sky drifts blue and he isn’t
punching a fist into his catcher’s mitt,
that big dumb ear.
It is April 1945; practice over.
His cleats give him the dancing, half-tough
gait of a boy earth loves
a full second more than the rest of us, and why not?
Outfield’s given up its ice
for mud, new-minted green, and my father
is lovely and angry and believes
he will live this way forever,
pinned to the longing for Bunny
Ritowsky under his hands, in his mouth,
while the vineyards murmur and cleave to their wire
and the steel mill confers its one
shadow through the backseat, through them.


What we don’t know will hurt us,
but not yet. Tomorrow
is a tease, forever gaining in accuracy
what it lacks in momentum,
rising and falling, setting us up like dust
in the bright crosshairs.
Worse, when the future comes we hardly ever hear it.
Like the perfect green recruit
marched straight from central casting into mortar fire
before the first reel is over.
Someone named Petey or JoJo
yells Duck! What’s the difference?
The ground comes up, the black stars of blood
pop in our mouths like flashbulbs,
We land with our arms shrugged as if
we were fresh out of money or information.


Actually, a discus hits my father. Ordinary lead.
The force should kill him but he wakes
in the janitor’s room,
a dozen hands throbbing ice water
in stinging slaps against his cheek.
He swims toward the hammered surface, sputters—
already pain is making him famous!
Horse-smell of liniment, sweat, and the huge
furnace breathing;
something in the boy rises to meet
that hot voice of care:
forget this town, this small-hearted life
you were meant to live
. And it's all true
if he can just raise himself to his elbows
or stop vomiting.
Then everything hushes, no one
looking at him at all, the tide of the room
pulled by the half moon of the radio’s speaker
sobbing, Ladies, Gentlemen, the President,
Our beloved President
. Then the bell rings for real.
The country begins its long
reeling into death and my father’s life begins.

:: Dorothy Barresi, All of the Above

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