We’re down 5-2 and I’ve been watching fog
creep into the outfield from behind me,
thinking about the way summer
has already made a ghost of itself.
And when the big guy with the neck tattoo,
who’s already scorched a double down the third-base line,
nails another one toward me, I’m not ready.
There’s no fence to keep the ball
from rolling into the deep and unmowed
corners of the park. So I follow it there
looking for the grass-stained Spalding my dad and I
threw back and forth and back until dusk,
so as to keep out of Papaw Carter’s house
that smelled of death, which is to say it smelled
of urine and of raw chicken thawing on the kitchen
counter and the years of mineral oil worked into the dark
wood furniture of the living room.
One of Papaw’s farm cats slinks by. Splash of blood
on its white face. And I am looking for the ball,
keeping my eyes away from the house and the man
in the house who shares my blood. Whose purpled toes
had to be cut off to save the left foot. Whose purblind
pony paced a circle in the bare grass. Whose papery
voice was kept thin under blankets in August.
When he dies, Mom says his heart will fly
home to Jesus. And I picture the bloody form
like the red bird the cat dragged into the dooryard
rising over the farm, over
the low grey skies of Pruntytown,
vanishing beyond the mountains.
Papaw died in a room with the TV on
mute. I can’t recall what happened
to that swayback pony nor the ball,
nor even where to find the plot of earth
where he’s buried.
Someone is crying Home as the big guy rounds
third. Home! I leg it out to the taller grasses
now damp with end-of-summer evening.
And there in the grass is the ball.
Home. It seems impossibly far.