Transported by trifles these soupy days – bright-blooming
paprika yarrow, that bagpiped out-of-tune Auld Lang Syne
tumbling over bone-dry hills, my son trembling with bliss
& dread as he plummets down the frog-slide’s tongue –
I grow wary of my own whirligig bouts of delight
when I find myself sideswiped by a ball of electrical tape
made, the plaque claims, by Babe Ruth at St. Mary’s School for Boys.
Needless to say, who cares? Why pause for even a moment
before this misshapen chotchka on a Plexiglas shelf? Relic-like,
under a hard light’s glare, beside Cobb’s sharpened cleats
& Clemente’s jersey from such & such a game, it was a wad
of nothing, really, a lopsided sphere most likely never used
for a game or even shagging flies & is only one more piece
of the past’s lumpish fruit turned artifact behind alarmed glass.
And still, why pretend the wondrous & the useless weren’t the same
all along? The meaningless, the miraculous – who are we to say?
Picture this tight bundle sailing past each backpedaling boy
history swallowed whole, long past the orphanage wall-notch
marking Brother Mathias’s furthest shot, past that rusted boiler
& the harbor’s rotting hulls, & past now even what legend will allow
as it soars beyond his Pigtown two-room shack with its avalanche
of bottles & chairs & his sauced-up father prowling again, back
from a day of door-to-door lies about his worthless lightning rods,
flames, guarantees, God’s wrath. Or at least this is how
it might have seemed. Rapture, raptura: to carry away
with joy; earlier: to kidnap, rape, although for better or worse
in this simmer of pleasure no one’s talking etymology here.
In the last year Ruth played for the Sox, he pummeled
a slider off Columbia George for the longest homerun ever hit.
With ease. Without much of anything but a body-thrashing stroke
during spring training when, as if it were possible, all of this
means even less. Billy Sunday, ex-right-fielder-turned-preacher-ablaze,
taking a break from bellowing about the Devil’s spitballs
& ways to head-butt sin, watched that ball beeline for even more
empty sky & for as long as this fast-winging shape remains
aloft, & even for a bit longer still, it’s the only grace
Sunday or anyone could feel, buoying them beyond the far wall
& revival tent pitched across the field, the bay’s abandoned shipyards,
all the dead that year from flu. Or is that too much to presume?
Even if perfection here means a split-second thwack & all
the countless ways to be held in thrall are both our shame & luck,
it matters little just now. I tell you no one could help their joy.
Matt Donovan is the author most recently of The Dug-Up Gun Museum (BOA Editions, 2022), Rapture & the Big Bam (Tupelo, 2017), the collection of lyric essays A Cloud of Unusual Size and Shape: Meditations on Ruin and Redemption (Trinity University Press, 2016), andVellum (Mariner, 2007), which won the 2008 Levis Reading Prize. His poetry and nonfiction have appeared in journals such as Poetry, Black Warrior Review, The Kenyon Review, The Threepenny Review, AGNI, and Virginia Quarterly Review. He has received a Rome Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Pushcart Prize, a Creative Capital Grant, an National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and a Whiting Award. He is director of the Boutelle-Day Poetry Center at Smith College. (updated 10/2022)