At Broad Channel
by Ryan Black
The dry reeds, deep left field, bend basin-ward in the constant hymn
of Kennedy International. Wasps whirl above rims of Pepsi cans left,
between innings, on a rotting bench as the coach examines his boys,
bends their ears back and combs through their hair, any bare skin . . .
tuck your pants into your socks. And, later, in the fine light from plastic
lamps, in a rented studio facing the boulevard, the sound of those flights
still in his ear until he imagines nothing else, nothing but music
in the arrival and departure of strangers, he’ll hold a mirror to his chest
and part the hair with a tweezer. There are times when he can almost feel
what isn’t there, or what might be, the mind’s sleight-of-hand, and because
he wouldn’t know where to look next, let me start again. I was in love
with a woman I thought I could leave. In the end, of course, she left me.
And left for good. And what I felt then isn’t shame, or what I’ve learned
shame could be, but my whole body ached. Without reason, the doctors said.
It just ached. So I imagined a disease still overlooked, a thief in the bloodstream,
and I’m thinking of Polly Murray, of Lyme, Connecticut, 1955. I’m thinking
of her first headache, sore throat and fever, the periorbital rash and bleeding.
And I’m thinking this is about resentment, the doctors’ response, syphilis
perhaps, perhaps lupus, and who could blame her, ferried from the sick
to the troubled by an expert’s sloppy font. Fish handler’s, German measles.
But it must have been indifference that stayed her, those sweet hours
when she’d strip before the river and wade out into the current, alone,
the jeweled stars blinking. Or early mornings in bed with her husband,
how they’d fuck in silence as the children slept far beyond Lyme, and far
beyond their own bodies, if only for an instant. Thirty years to get it all
down, to separate and divorce. Thirty years to help give name to the disease
poised to bloom across the pale chest of this shortstop, playing in on the grass,
who spits now into the palm of his glove, a prayer the ball does not find him,
but a moment, as well, his body can record in its brief and almost grace.
Soon his eyes could blur, his fingers swell. Soon the simplest geometry
might set him off, and his knees will burn. Or the soft voice of his heart
might stutter and spit, prophesying a long convalescence, the get-well-cards
addressed out-of-state. Then the body’s dominion. Or he’ll return by spring,
somehow quieter, somehow new, giving up soda and chocolate, for Lent,
he’ll say, though the fine muscles shine past any faith. And who wouldn’t
want it this way? Who doesn’t wish it so? But I remember a boy in eighth
grade who lost an ear on the Interboro when his brother’s Nissan flipped
at Cypress Hills, the same fool’s turn we’d soon race through to excite our
first girlfriends. He was pinned, I think, in profile to the open sunroof;
his ear caught, shaved. And if we made fun of him then, if someone
who has long since forgotten first called him Vincent, and he was made
to carry that name into a strange adulthood the way the young artist carried
his stillborn brother like a pall in that famous signature, we must have been
afraid. I think we must have been terrified. And if the body’s the form of
prayer and all we believe tethered to it, what then? And the woman
from Lyme? Or the one who left? Ask the moon. Ask the darker half
of twilight. Or the boys soft tossing between starts of a doubleheader,
spraying Repel onto their cleats and forearms, and replaying the first
inning error or pair of strikeouts, the dropped fly ball and hit-by-pitch?
There is no voice in the wind here, no truth in the stalled parkways the wind
moves through, and the boy who lost an ear somewhere in this poem
must be a man by now, though some things will not change, some things
are absolute, like a truth spoken for the first time, and I can imagine
him this evening, a look like wonder etched into his face as he stares
again at his own reflection. It’s already late; the last planes pulse and
broadcast home. And I’m sorry for knowing this, but, each time, nothing
happens. He stares, and nothing happens. And, each time, he can almost
see what isn’t there, what’s indivisible: a tick on a blade of grass, the body
in negative space.
Ryan Black has published previously in Luna, TriQuarterly, The Saint Ann’s Review, and elsewhere. He was awarded a 2009 Millay Colony for the Arts residency. He teaches at Queens College of the City University of New York. (8/2009)