To the child in the suburbs of silence

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.

Game Theory

Quiet is like a zero-sum game.
The more I win, the more you lose
And I don’t know who you are
But I know you’re not a loser,
You oughtn’t be,
So it’s my job to fix the game.

Quiet is like a continuous function on a compact set
Where I know some minimum exists.
If it’s better to give than receive;
Then it must be better still to give more.
If it’s better to listen than to speak,
Better to keep even more still.
If it’s better to not be bothered,
Better not to ask for too much.
I can keep trying, keep looking for the minimum
But I get pushed even closer
Out to the edges.

Quiet is like a symmetric game
Where I could play perfectly
But you’re not smart enough
To infer the optimum strategy.
You taught me the rules, the scoring, everything,
So I won’t sink to your level,
Get pulled down by your loss.
But still, you’re unfit to be tied.

Quiet is like a group that acts transitively on itself.
I could get sent anywhere, could put up with anything,
Anyone’s interchangeable, as a set.
But as a group, there’s still an identity–
That’s me,
And the others aren’t like me,
They don’t see it the same way.

Quiet is like an exponential function.
If you put words in my mouth
Then what if you do it again
When I don’t understand?
What if, if I stand up for something,
They’ll ask more of me next time?
What if it’s growing without limit?

Quiet is like a chain of implications
That doesn’t allow everything.
It will not introduce an inconsistency.
But either it’s missing something fundamental–
Glimpsed from the outside, but that I can never reach–
Or it’s never going to get off the ground
And I’m too weak to say anything at all.

Quiet is like playing football.
I flinch, freeze up,
And then I punt.
But maybe, I’m just looking for dispassionate stripes
Where I can explain
That I really just meant to defer.

By Periods And Halves

I never learned to skate,
But that didn’t matter,
Because where I came from,
Everyone appreciated hockey.

We all saw the T-Shirts,
Knew “peewees” and “bantams”
Even if we couldn’t define them.

On some level I must have known
There were other cities, hotter tempers.
We were just a suburb,
Too small for the map,
Bigger than plenty that made the cut.

So we went on, being normal,
And taking normalcy for granted.
We were not special, did not stand out,
Had nothing new to say.
Even if you weren’t normal, you wanted
To be good, so you didn’t go around
Saying “haha, look how abnormal I am!
I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that,
Can you repeat? Explain? Spell out
How strange things are, how weak my ears?”
It would be a waste of everyone’s time.

We had no favorite sons–
Maybe a statesman, once,
Overseen in the bread store.

We had a favorite daughter.
She played hockey.

Then I moved on, and if people chilled,
I let them. Being normal,
I would not dare to believe
I was strange in some way.
Normal people took the losses with the wins,
And if we had failed somehow,
The scoreboard would do its catching up.

You see I didn’t learn the overtime rules,
All the technical nuances of centuries,
Regulations and all the names of
Canadian celebrities of the 1890s.
Every winter there was snow.

I don’t mean to say I pretended I cared,
Boasted about a favorite team,
Put up posters of a star
When I couldn’t have told you the score.
I did nothing by halves.

“It’s all right,” said the hotheads,
“Things are different here and now,
We don’t expect anyone to
Rattle off foreign aristocrats, goodness no.”

And I was silent,
Because I was normal,
And normal people were always part of the “we.”

Count me as one of you, or don’t, I thought.
But if you put words in my mouth,
I’ll become the enemy you want.
I can take up a blade,
I can check you into a wall.

We have, perhaps, another favorite daughter now,
Left home (a bigger town than they think,
But what do they know.)
Went to the city, made it big.
I read about her, just the other day.

Aha. She’s one of some other them, according
To the other thems who write the papers.
Someone they have to spend
Half the time explaining
In order to understand.

And I am one of them too.
I cannot see the “us” anymore,
Too dumb, too weak, too alone.
But they’re out there, waiting
For me to lace up.

Bookworm’s Soliloquy

So, @ranjit programs his glorious robot to cull spam floods. How, you ask? In lipogram fashion, with inspiration from…um…yours truly.

This is such a glorious honor that, obviously, I must post lots of lipograms, such as right now. Starting with a bit of angsty writing.

I am still trying to know who I am,
to find out without guilt,
how what is not can touch what is.
Not just distracting it,
pulling us away from work and from duty
only to drop us off following a short duration of play
without changing how our minds focus.
And not distorting it past what it is,
I am not so cool and hip as to
latch on to any passing fad,
throw away faith and truth for casual doubt.
No, it is how I can look into a book
and latch on, and find it latching back
so that I am caught up in it all,
having to find out what occurs
(though nothing occurs)
and caring, caring too much than I think I should,
frustration, mourning, loss,
an itch to craft my own finish,
a fool’s laugh–
what audacity that I’d know so much!
That I could find what I want–
but who can know what I’d want, but I?
And a crushing guilt,
an iron, unforgiving sound intoning
“bad you, bad you for caring
and not caring about a world full of pain.”
So I pull into my soul, out from this too-full world,
afraid to talk to anybody
(anybody would laugh at this stupid prioritization, I am paranoid),
trying not to cry.

World Series, Day 3

Or, An Open Letter To People Unlikely To Read This

There were times when people like you
Would not have asked me the score.
You would have known who was playing,
Not because you particularly cared
But because it was the only game in town,
Because the towns were clustered together,
Because it was something to talk about.

Today, you are free to watch whatever you like,
Or would be if I wasn’t hogging the TV.
I ask, several times, but you let me keep it.
You can watch soccer;
I scribble on Facebook, MLS Playoffs anyone?
You can watch basketball,
You can’t technically watch the NHL right now,
But the announcers will cite it anyway
Just to get more data about best of seven series.
You can play dodgeball or videogames or guitar,
Play school, work school,
Find a niche and pick it.

Instead here you are, and I explain,
The Giants are winning.
The game is in Detroit.
The Tigers are from Detroit.
The Giants are from San Francisco.
Well, they’re from New York. They left.
The Dodgers were all like let’s take over the west coast
And be rivals there. It’ll be fun.

Pretty much, that’s how it happened.
No, I’m not a Giants fan.
No, I’m not a Tigers fan.
The Giants are still winning.
They’re up two games to none.
It’s best out of seven.
This is game three.
This is the third game in a row.
The next game will be tomorrow.
It is not a “tripleheader.”
No, that would have to be on the same day.

Take the TV back, if you want.
Say something, go out and party.
You don’t need to care for the playoffs,
Just as I don’t need to care for whatever you do.

And maybe, if you don’t care about the playoffs,
Don’t come in and ask
If anyone wants to watch the soccer playoffs
Just to get a rise out of me
When you explain that you don’t care about the playoffs.

There is a line, somewhere,
Between being social, fitting in,
Making conversation, having fun,
And lying to annoy,
Using others because you can. Right?
Each play is a new chance
And I am backpedaling out in left field
Unable to see
Just waiting for it all to come down.

If I was brave, I’d ask you
Why I was worth your time.

Lesser-known trains

The train I took to Wrigley Field
The train I took back from Wrigley Field, making my way through the water bottle sellers
The A train
The train you let me use your ten-ride pass on
The train I’ll buy you a ticket for next spring
The A- train
The Big Train
The train where I wondered if I could hide in the staircase and not pay my fare
The train I took to vote the Valentine’s Day I was crying about math
Spring training
Oblique strain
Constrained writing
The train I took to the Metrodome (there is only one train in Minneapolis, and I took it to the Metrodome)
Train of thought

Division Series, Day 4

In finite time
We procrastinate.
Today becomes this afternoon
Will become “after dinner.”
After dinner I will try to do work.

Dinner will come on time.
No, after this half-inning. No–
When the Giants get a hit.
Keep quiet, the game’s tied one apiece.
It would be strange, I think,
Calling back to another game,
And a funny name,
To make a jinx based on a nickname.
Nothing happens, yet.
And still, dinner waits.

Later, I take a pencil
Prepare to draw loops
Leading to nowhere.
All of the paths
Come from other circles,
Other starts and ends
That take in zeroes after zeroes,
Sometimes ones
And wind and wend
Every which way.
They are nondeterministic;
It’s not clear when
Or if they’ll end.