Jeffrey

Ease

She holds her face up to him
and he leans against the wall
staring back, around them the eddies
and swirl of the others, the shouts
and calls between classes,
she creates an idea that this
is the only world, the one between them:
his earnestness of desire is her proof of love;
this intensity holds them rooted past
the late bell and the hallway quickly empties:

Jeffrey glides by, a quick smile,
somehow no girlfriend but the girls
all watch, and his scrawny shape
transforms with an audience.

Everyday he flexes and poses, his body
impossibly sculpted, a rushing stream
of a body, he pokes and teases the girls
with this body, and they read in his shoulders
and stomach the soliloquy of sex
it promises them.

Then he is sprawled in a desk,
the metal and plastic covered in ink declarations
stop and make shapes with his smooth skin
and he is writing quickly, attempting to keep up,
he is alone then, furiously so sometimes,
and the girls cautiously examine him,
his lax form contains poetry
they would not dare utter.

 

Andrew Decker

Zaydee

A Whole World

She leaned forward everyday
right before the bell rang,
ending class.

A world to see, she was pregnant
by seventeen, the usual story
and the loyal boyfriend
loyal for awhile.

Metallic yellow curls, an afternoon
in a beauty parlor in the Heights,
other girls placing their hands
on her belly. She still fawns
over the boyfriend in photographs
she once took delight in, he looks out
cardboard tough, do-rag and turntables,
behind him the unadorned geometry
of somebody’s apartment.

She’s a collector. She unfolds
and shows what is hers: the photographs,
the notes and text messages. She shows
her friends these last exchanges
from the phone she snuck
through the metal detectors on her way
into school this morning.

 

Andrew Decker

February

A quick change of weather,
a cold wind off waves from an ocean
we never see. The window, still half-open
for afternoon’s sun, let’s in instead
a breeze that chills the sheets.
I arrange my books again in this new place.

The clouds hang to the edge of land
and the birds stray only to collect
in our windows: sounds at dawn,
shadows in morning,
buddhas in the afternoon.
In the darkness they are just one more
fragment of the mystery.

Late at night, half-listened to songs
heard hundreds of times in similar moods,
wondering at the folly of desire.

 

Andrew Decker

Illumination

There is an industrial sky and the wind
is a little too strong, a little too cool
to blow like this through the still leafless
branches of the trees on this two-flat street.

You asked, inside, the lamps lit at 4 o’clock,
if my mother read my poetry and I said no,
why would my mother read my poetry?
And I thought of one she’d found, put
on the wall of her pharmaceutical company office:

“We are all homeless,” it began somewhat dramatically,
and I suppose she was, a passed around orphan
in 1950s Northern Ohio: plains without expanses
and the canned laughter out of the tinny speakers
of new televisions: the fakers pretending
to be just like you and me. She told me she used
to go to the Akron airport to watch the planes
on Saturday afternoons and when heaven came
on Sunday morning she felt a similar awe,
with the rosary beads like pebbles
in her fingers and the candles lit and the thick smell
of the church clinging to her clothes the rest of the day,
like an importance carried even that far
from the faraway cathedrals in Europe
with the same Latin calling down the same God.

In that same poem I talked of the ballgames
at dusk and how the air felt against our forearms
as the sun was replaced by the night
and all the voices of our parents calling us in
and they were much younger too.

Later, everybody around our patio
with the grilling and the conversations
and I would sneak off into the corner
of the shared yard and the crickets
with their sound of the rhythm of the earth
seemed like a permanence in the summer
and not a vesperal hum announcing
any of these auroras of autumn.

I would kneel down to hear them closer,
sometimes I would get a jar
and all night, I would hear that song
and it was quieter than silence to me.
I am remembering this now,
it is the part of the poem that was never written.

 

Andrew Decker

Greg Maddux

“I’ll play with him any day.” Andre Dawson, spring, 1988 when asked about pitcher Greg Maddux’s prospects with the Major League ball club the Chicago Cubs.

“Only a wind that keeps turning, turning
Around an abandoned ball park.
That blows and blows, forever blowing
Away: always away from home.”

–“The Swede was a Hard Guy”, Nelson Algren

I A feeling on the el sometimes

Late March, there is rain, in Chicago
the wind is still cold like January
though the sun warms with promises,
and then, Greg Maddux is gone.

Sometimes, loud el ride,
this is the final straw. This is the push
over the proverbial edge, people thinking
about other people, staring at brownstones
and into windows of the buildings
along the track and then,
Maddux is in Atlanta.

II Everyone tells stories

Baseball in Chicago is like everything
in Chicago, or perhaps, it is the other way
around. There is dirt mixed
with faith and love—there are ballplayers
from 1919 we still long
to claim and clean and make
beautiful as they were, before
broken conspiracies opened up
like the Lake at the end of all
these brick buildings. Chicago longs
to open up like the ploughed fields
that created it, longs to leave
on the railroads that made it.
Telling stories of itself through
the night, an epic sprawled out
and spelled strewn on the corpses
in garages, in alleys, in courtrooms
all built on this ancient swamp.

In Chicago everything is examined,
everything becomes part of the narrative
and you can bet that criminals on first
examination, are saints on the fifth.
Maddux, his first 20 win season dangling,
let it go, defending a teammate
in the fifth inning of a 9-0 game.
Maddux, those of us who watched will never
tire of saying, was more beautiful than Koufax,
more dominating than Johnson.
Maddux destroyed the batters’ belief,
made them the yokels
from New York, from L.A.
From cities that tried to take the railroads from us
a century ago. He looked effortless,
he was clawing at you.

If Maddux fell apart in the play-offs,
was it not because he had thrown so much,
held together so much an entire season?
In Chicago, baseball is an effort for tragic heroes,
for illiterate Hamlets and joyful Romeos
who would play baseball as if seduced,
as if the game was destined, through
annual heartbreak to find, sometime,
a rapture. We have been snake-bit,
sunburned, sold into purgatory for the sins
of the chafed and the chafing:
There were lords to defy,
there were subjects to keep in place.
Conspiracy is Chicago’s wine,
time again it leads to a truth
so great, that Chicago, in its writhing,
is great. Our players are beautiful,
we misplace them like so many toy soldiers.
We wait the winter for them.

III 1969

It began, in late summer, with a cat.
Soon it was Seaver, and not Jenkins,
soon order asserted itself. We were left
with beer-stained memories, memories
of bleacherites discussing Santo’s quick hands,
much the way, generations earlier,
bleacherites discussed Weaver’s
just to the South. What summer promised,
the fall so easily took away: this game is
an artist’s game, a skill of hands.

IV Fanatics are sad in October

In September the sun is warm, but the wind
promises the winter, it begins its process
of expiation early. All these beautiful leaves
that have fallen then: the ball fell through
Hap’s glove and he says it was an honest play.
It is Chicago, there is no doubt that this was
the honest play.

In 1984 the ball went through the Bull’s glove,
and this too, was an honest play:
this too, was a wound to the heart.
You will hear grown men, without irony,
describe where they were when that happened,
what they were drinking, what they said:
other lines to add to the corpses’ bodies.

There are ghosts in baseball: there is the ghost
of Eddie Cicotte aching to use his arm in Game One.
He felt his good stuff but he had given away his arm.
It was classic Chicago, how the deception
turned on the deceptor, revealed the saint within
at the moment of sin.

There is Hartnett, the ivy gone, the sun down,
the knees weary with summer in this now awesome
September streak and if we did not hear
the bat groan from our seats in the grandstand,
could we even see the ball slip the sky
for the bleachers? If there were no miracles
left for fall, was there not that moment,
when like wine from water, day was taken
from night? Baseball was released:
it was the revelation of drama.
It was the festival for harvests,
beginning with the planting,
ending with the gathering.

V Ballparks

Maddux is in Atlanta now,
there he is in that new ballpark,
that ballpark that doesn’t even remember Aaron.
In Chicago the graves are kept for the bodies
but not the ghosts,
it was here that Ruth called
or did not call the homerun,
where Hornsby snarled and a collection
of our 4-Fs lost to some 4-Fs from Detroit
after the War had ended.
Maddux is in Atlanta moving the ball in
on hitters so that they hit it off their feet,
so they roll it to the second basemen,
so Maddux can chase this perfection in peace,
without the echoes of this demon-town
with its beautiful ghosts.

 

Andrew Decker