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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
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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