Al Ortolani’s poetry and reviews have appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, New Letters, Word Riot, andthe New York Quarterly. His fifth collection of poems, Waving Mustard in Surrender, was released in 2014 from New York Quarterly Books. Currently, he is teaching English in the Blue Valley School District and serves on the Board of Directors of the Kansas City Writers Place. Al and his wife Sherri recently returned from Ireland where they fell in love with the entire country.
Mothers and fathers walk their children
to the edge of the playing field. They unfold
canvas chairs and sit on the berm overlooking
the diamond. Traffic from the highway is muted.
Trains in the distance blow long horns
at unseen crossings. Young ball players take
practice swings on deck. They chew bubble gum
and wear over sized batting helmets.
Meadowlarks lift in song from fence posts.
The blue sky covers the earth—everyone bats,
everyone runs the bases. No one is ever
called out on strikes. A little girl guzzles
the water bottle she has rescued from the dirt.
Her game shirt reads Diamond Princess,
untucked it stretches to her knees. Grandfathers
aren’t critical. There will be plenty
of time tomorrow to tuck in the shirttail,
to adjust her swing, and in teaching the slap bunt
—to win or lose.
The Mickey Mantle Long Shot
One night Mike and I blew our allowances
on packs of baseball cards. It paid off. I found
a Mickey Mantle wedged behind the gum. Mike
unwrapped a Roger Maris. We danced in the shade
of the elm behind the concessions. Grimaldi
and Ferns were coming up to bat. We ran
behind the left field fence with about 20 other
Pony Leaguers and waited for the long ball.
Returned to the scorekeeper, a homer earned
a snow cone or two more packs of cards, maybe
a Whitey Ford or a Yogi Berra, maybe a chance
to keep collecting behind the backstop.
With each pitch the crescendo of cicadas rose.
If the ball dropped over the fence, we knew
we were in for a fight. We teased the hitters
with chatter. Time hung in the lights like a slow
curve. We chomped our now tasteless gum.