In the Frame of Innings, Pendleton County, West Virginia

Remember it shin-deep, that coppery, sulphuric hue
of the North Fork of the South Branch—

the way it caught the summer glow
and threw it back to us tarnished?

We cruised those towns along the shallow ribbon:
Petersburg, Moorefield, Wampler Farms. August heat.

The summer’s sweet promise grown over-ripe,
scudding away downstream where eagles once nested

in the high-eaved banks.Bruised stink of poultry on the air.
Our fathers’ workshirts crumpled on the bedroom floors

foretelling our destinies, a sweaty heap: twenty years old and nowhere to go.
Just get ahold of what you can and swing like hell, Dad said. D’ya hear me?

We were young men, old boys grown too old from work,
the Guard, the low empty skies of our homes.

Sundays we gathered at the ballpark by the swale,
at the edge of hairy cornfields, where crows swarmed

and the river’s dog-legged riffles kept the beers cold.
Filling into our bodies roughly, abundantly

we were ready to put order to the green frenzy, our randy lives
with ball and bat, the smack of knuckles on leather palms,

the hey-nana-nana of pop and fling, gulping
our fleeting youth in the frame of innings.

Around there it all floats down the Potomac, on to Washington,
someplace else. The jobs, the college-bound, the new corridor

they had to run so many off to lay—a gash
in the ridgeline marks the route—

Eminent domain, the government called it.
Farm lines redrawn. Mountains thrust aside and scarred.

Big chugging trucks headed out of state. Loss arriving
in rehearsal for departure, hauling out the pieces.

So when someone like Travis Harper
could manage to rear back and uncoil

from some sweet sovereignty of motion
a slider that swept in from the knees

and bit the heart out of the plate, you bet
I dropped my shoulder, held my stare

and followed through with all I had.
It left me slack-jawed, glazed, then smiling.

What else to do but tip my hat
and marvel at this little bit of mastery?

—a moment of perfection amid
the sloppy, high-scoring hours of those days.

Afterwards, swerving down dirt roads,
throwing dust into the gleaming night,

we pressed the pedal home and, since we could,
took one last swig of the high life before retiring.

:: Ryan Walsh, in Green Mountains Review (18:2, 2005)

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