Someday you will learn to pronounce enough of the words,
To enough of an approximation
That your harmonies blend in with the rest.
When they ask you where you’re from
It won’t beg a follow-up;
No muddled consonants will suggest an accent
And you will not have to take root in defiance,
Claiming a city with central, commonplace voices
Almost as a challenge. To push them back
Into silence instead.
You are young now. When you moved away
It was an adventure, thrilling, fascinating.
But now other children make friendships naturally,
Stretch out their hearts, transformed by some magics,
Telepathies you cannot name, cannot read,
Insights you cannot touch, cannot comprehend,
Cannot put words to the unseen void.
Maybe, you hypothesize today, it was easier before,
It is only the new start that has set you behind.
You do not think it could be anything lacking in you;
How could it be, with your digit-reckoning,
Your story-weaving, the skills the adults praise?
Homesickness is a shield, an explanation.
And being an underdog, you sense, is good.
Overcats are blamed for everything.
People like you overcats are the guilty,
The evil, the wrong,
Will never have been good enough,
In history, in books, in the paper, in the church,
Everything they make you read
To prove how smart you are, to skip ahead
Says you’re an overcat, an overcat,
You and the ones like you,
Never enough, never enough.
But when you catch sight, on the street
Of a hat, a t-shirt, maybe,
Of the city you remember, not even a fan then,
The hat your mom loved, the shirt your grandfather knew,
Amid the football horns, amid the foul weather in these new towns
And the fans not sure whether they are fair nor foul,
No, fans like you are not quite the majority here–
You smile back at something recognized.
They will still ask you, someday, many questions
“Where are you from?”
Not for your voice’s sake, but for your shirt
And you will not be nimble enough
To answer in time.
Cities down the line, you’ll stammer something:
“By birth, by college, not consecutive”
But usually it’s enough
For the questioners who don’t say what they mean.
Are they filtering out bandwagon hoppers?
Or happier to find true fans
From unexpected sources?
You still can’t read their minds. But you’ll get by.
They will look for overcats.
They will look for scapegoats.
They will look for stories, but not the stories you know;
There are, I suppose, as many among “they”
As there are people like you among
The great crowd of witnesses
Your bandwagon has led you to.
And trying to lump them together,
Bestowing praise and blame,
Is a fool’s errand.
But there are many fools running errands.
You have many associations now,
Some wondrous and graceful,
Other associations–in some minds–guilt-trips.
But while you learn to shake your fists
At the players who muff it,
Adding their histories to a litany,
You never become a scapegoater,
Even as you burn at being mislabeled one.
Though the stories will spilled forth
From your fingers very soon
In joy and in sorrow
When stars make way for prospects,
They will come in indignation, too,
When fantasy is the only way to clear your name.
For the players you love will move on.
You’ll cling to their jerseys
And then they’ll move on.
And then their numbers will circle around again
And you’ll find that the numbers are still there for you.
People will see you in the shirts, little seventeen,
And say you haven’t aged a day.
They will still ask about your age, later,
Doing double-takes when you answer.
To get them to trust you,
I suggest spouting advanced math.
Even if you’re disheartened by that path from day to day
Some of them won’t believe you’re grown-up
If you explain that you haven’t changed much;
There was no rupture, no crisis of faith,
No artsy-fartsing and no newfound pretentiousness.
There was change, yes, more slowly;
No more newspapers, no more box-score reading;
A grudging tolerance for freer verse
(Well, okay, at times
You will go for rhymes.)
Just as they ask about your age now
And you hope to impress them
After giving prodigious answers,
Showing off what you’ve learned.
Memorizing, internalizing, regurgitating records
That serve as touchstones, conversation starters
And after them, quirky plays
And after them, quirky people,
And after them, a world that unfolds
With every improvised abbreviation of the scorecard
Until the radio lulls you to sleep
With patchy AM broadcasts, bouncing off the ionosphere,
Your hand a living antenna.
It is others’ nostalgia that glorifies the medium,
Not yet your own,
But the books you turn to are an ionosphere of their own,
Magnifying the signal several times over.
Or maybe when the world’s telepathy is a cloud, disrupting the signals,
And the numbers in your brain are the radio tower,
Baseball will be the nighttime boost,
Amplifying the call to reach your hand.
Someday they will come echoing back,
The voices you have known,
Exultant for you to reach the heights you have seen.
(You will not be alone;
There will be, if ephemeral, ways of connecting.)
Someday, when you are not quite so young as you are now,
But still, in the grand scheme of things, young,
And not always sure if you are worthy of what you have been given,
But not caring about your optimization,
Because there are others who have waited longer, endured more,
And grateful beyond words that they have a share in this moment,
You will be the voice that echoes back.
What you are seeking is not an end to struggle,
Not an end to identity,
But the chance to compete as others do;
On a field that is fair,
With mounds and warnings and everything in between.
Without naysayers nor overcats, without guilt or false narratives
But with room for the ever-new stories the game spouts forth.
Room for you to own the richness of your mind,
In its weakness and its strength,
And to own your faith without naivete,
Wherever you may be–
Like the prayer of the ever-steadfast voice
“Not for a win,
But that there may be no goats, and only heroes.”
There are other games, other connections.
In the high school cafeteria, out of the blue
You’ll get recruited onto the chess team,
Striving to logic your way though black and white,
Learn to keep score,
And carry the quotations of the game with you,
Forging new stories under your fingertips.
Two years later, your recruiter moves away,
Transferring to the Lightning,
And again, you feel obliged to take it out through words.
Sonnets this time.
(I don’t feel bad about spoiling this,
Since you plagiarized it from their fight song anyway,
Which was itself ripped off from Notre Dame.)
We sing “Shake down the thunder from the sky”.
But does that mean we want to seize the rain?
I couldn’t hold a thunderbolt in my
Hand without undergoing cosmic pain…
Lightning is weird.
You can’t trap lightning in a bottle;
You know this, watching players regress toward the mean
After brilliant performances one year.
You can’t count on anything, can’t be sure
Until it is proven, until it is over,
Whether leading or trailing, quiet as a mathematician;
This fear, this hope, has always defined you.
But there are lightning rods.
There will be other underdogs and other flukes
That captivate your heart along the way,
That seem to use up all the magic
Until your team are favorites in the end
And this can’t make you love them any less
Than the first day you started counting homers.
This is not the end. Nor is it
An end to anguish, to headaches
Literal or figurative,
Beyond and probably within the game.
Even now, as I write this to you
In apprehension for what lies ahead
I sit waiting for a letter I cannot receive
From my own future. But I may send one
When I am as far removed from this day
As I, who now sit writing, am to you.
The day will come when you will find your voice.
And after that will come another day
When you will scream, and weep, and then rejoice
After numbers’ worth of mind-numbing play.
You’ll see a playoff game with your own eyes
As your team makes its way out of the dark
Onto the path where they can lift the prize
And ultimately leave their winning mark.
When the flags that count bear the final score
When the clouds lift after the rains descend,
When no one speaks of curses anymore,
And your beloveds’ waits come to an end.
I can’t say how. I cannot say how long.
But someday, you will raise your heart in song.