Monday, April 27, 2015

Squinting and Savoring

There was a Letter to the Editor in my local paper on Friday, bemoaning the paper's decision not to print Major League Baseball box scores in the Sports page any longer. 

At first glance, this seemed just a generic rant of the kind the newspaper Letters page specializes in, of the Old Person Yelling at Passing Traffic variety.  What makes it interesting is that the author is the poet Michael McFee.

Can I access such data online? Sure. But it’s not the same as holding the folded newspaper in my hands, following the numbers with my fingers, smelling the ink and hearing the shaken-out pages, appreciating how neatly a box score (which takes up very little room) summarizes this beautiful game and doing so the way generations of fans and families have always done. It’s not even close.

Part of what McFee is praising is the sensory experience of reading a newspaper.  I can relate: My wife and I let our subscription to the physical paper lapse a couple of years ago.  But we missed it, so we re-upped.  We missed it most of all at the breakfast table.  Does it clutter up our lives?  I suppose so, but it also gives texture to our lives, concrete and local.

It was nice, also, to be reminded that the daily box score can appeal to a poet as well as a baseball stat nerd.  If you know its syntax, a box score tells a story in an economical but resonant way.  Sports reporting on the Web has almost no space limitations, so some of the beauty of the box score is lost due to the abundance of real estate. 

Michael McFee has published at least a couple of poems about baseball.  I liked this one; I have been struck by the image of a baseball diamond seen from an airplane window, especially at night.  But this one dazzled me.  I reprint it here.

Old Baseball Found Under A Bush

On this ultimate spitball
 steeped for who knows how many unseasonable seasons
  under a parkside bush,

two tiny snails are tracing
  fingerings: fast ball, slider, split finger, curve,
   a patient rehearsal

over horsehide so putrefied
 the regulation pressure-wound muscular core beneath
  is dissolving like newsprint.

This is something you want
 to drop, not throw: the old flirtation with gravity
  has gone sour, there’s too much

dirt and scuff and sweat and smell,
 the delicate infinite swell of the hand-stitched seams
  protrudes from its flayed skin

like a skeleton, a bone of hope.
 This thing is meant for the heavy hands of the dead.
  So I tuck it back in the dark

as the snails polish their trail,
 a couple of umpires searching for whatever it was
  that made this ball jump once.