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The Ninth Inning

by Donald Hall


1.  My dog and I drive five miles every
morning to get the newspaper. How
else do I find out, when the Sox trade
Smoky Joe Wood for Elizabeth Bishop?
He needs persistent demonstration
of love and approval. He cocks his
head making earnest pathetic sounds.
Although I praise his nobility
of soul, he is inconsolable

2.  when I lift my hand from his ear to
shift: Even so, after the reading,
the stranger nods, simpers, and offers
to share his poems with me. Dean Gratt
confided, at the annual Death
and Retirement Gala: “Professor
McCormick has not changed: A Volvo
is just a Subaru with tenure.”
Catchers grow old catching, which is strange

3.  because they squat so much. “The barn is
burning, O, the barn is burning on
the hill; the cattle low and blunder
in their stalls; the horses scream and hurl
their burning manes.” Jennifer remains
melancholic. Do you start to feel,
Kurt, as if you’re getting it? I mean
baseball, as in the generations
of old players hanging on, the young

4.  coming up from Triple A the first
of September, sitting on the bench
or pinch-running, ready for winter’s
snow-plowing and cement-mixing, while
older fellows work out in their gyms
or cellars, like George “Shotgun’’ Shuba
who swung a bat against a tethered
ball one thousand times a day, line-drives
underneath his suburban ranchhouse.

5.  By 2028, when K. C.
turned one-hundred, eighty-three percent
of American undergraduates
majored in creative writing, more
folks had MFA’s than VCR’s,
and poetry had passed acrylic
in the GNP. The NEA
offered fellowships for destroying
manuscripts and agreeing: “Never

6.  to publish anything jagged on
the right side of the page, or ever
described as ‘prose poems.’” Guerillas
armed with Word Perfect holed in abstract
redoubts. Chief-of-Staff Vendler mustered
security forces (say: Death Squads)
while she issued comforting reports
nightly on lyric television.
Hideous shepherds sing to their flocks

7.  under howling houses of the dog.
At the Temple Medical Center
in New Haven I wait. My mother
at eighty-six goes through the Upper
and Lower GI again. My mind
jangles, thinking of my sick son in
New York and his sick one-year-old girl.
This afternoon, if the X-rays go
all right, I drive back to New Hampshire.

8.  In New Hampshire, late August, the leaves
turn slowly, like someone working to
order—protesting, outraged—and fall
as they must do. The pond water stays
warm but the campers have departed.
By the railroad goldenrod stiffens;
asters begin a late pennant drive
in front of the barn; pink hollyhocks
wilt and sag like teams out of the race.

9.  No Red Sox tonight, but on Friday
a double-header with the Detroit
Tigers, my terrible old team, worse
than the Red Sox who beat the Yankees
last night while my mother and I watched
—the way we listened, fifty years back—
sprightly ghosts playing in heavy snow
on VHS 30 from Hartford,
and the pitcher stared at the batter.

Donald Hall’s forthcoming book, The Museum of Clear Ideas, includes the series “Baseball,” which contains “The Ninth Inning” from this issue. (1992)


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