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Jim Cummins - Mid West Correspondent

"Stick" [by James Cummins]

Jim Cummins
It was intra-squad, not a real game,
But teenage boys don’t know the difference;
And to the pitcher who’d just thrown
An adrenaline-powered fastball at my head,
I was a pretender he could intimidate.
When the next pitch nearly took off
The top of my left knee, I knew,
With all the force of a mystical vision,
This talented boy, this ace of the staff,
A senior expected to bloom after showing
Such promise last year, such grit, such
Competitive fire, would fail.  I saw it
In his eyes when I got back up; I saw
The momentary hesitation, the confusion.
I knew the next pitch would be right
Down the middle of the plate, and as fast
As all the pride in his body could muster.
And he knew I knew; that was the key.
He didn’t know how, but he knew;
And it scared him, this giant of a boy,
That a stick of a kid he could break
In half in study hall, or a parking lot,
Would stare back at him as I stared back.
You never know who’ll relish the arena;
Who won’t care what he looks like,
As he approaches the game from his side,
Watching you watching him as he steps up.
The pitch was pretty, a beauty of a pitch,
But it depended on my believing what
Had transpired between us the last two.
His arrogance became my coldness;
I’d done this before, and he hadn’t.
The pitch was pretty, a beauty of a pitch,
And a few seconds later it hit a limb
Of a sycamore behind the left field fence.
“You’re going to have a bad year,” I yelled
As I trotted down the first base line,
Even then disliking myself for shouting it;
But something will rip out of you
In those moments, both you and not you;
It's not just triumph.  Bullies, sociopaths,
Narcissists—you have to demarcate—
You have to spell out a moment’s meaning
For them, in words they can’t mistake,
Because to them others have no outlines—
Other people are just blurry shapes
At the edges of their self-absorption.
And facts aren’t facts; you have to replace
The voice in their heads with a new voice:
I glued that home run to a voice
That jeered like the voice of his father,
Perhaps, or his mother, or a brother;
A voice that said this is your stupid soul
Flying over the fence after being struck
By the oldest weapon in the world,
A wooden stick.

From Recalcitrant Actors (2021, Dos Madres Press) by James Cummins,


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I left it
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"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
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as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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