You don’t begin to see the shape of it
until the sixth inning
and then, not until the last man fouls out –
any more than you can see the shape of
until the sixth decade, and who can say
what turn of events might torque the arc
of your story toward another end entirely.
So by the time he slouches to the mound
in the bottom of the seventh
the crowd is screaming everything but
what they’re screaming about –
to say it out loud is to jinx it –
and we look up from the bag of peanuts
you bought in the third,
and from the talk we’ve been having between
innings about how we needed to break
it off between us:
I, just turned 21, and as they deemed it in 1956,
needing to get on with my life
and you, as they assessed it in 1956,
not marriage material.
All forgotten though as Sal the Barber sets
the next three batters down in order –
the curve, the slider, the razor –
our hearts hanging on each inside pitch.
He was ours now, Sal Maglie, our nemesis
traded to us in the dusk of his career. Sal,
the old Dodger killer – all ours now at Ebbets
field, the evening beginning to slide into dusk
but the infield grass still greener here than
any green east of the Mississippi and
somewhere in the eighth – Sal pinwheeling
his arms against the stiff wind sweeping in
from the bleachers,
Reese rubbing up the ball after each out –
the silence starts, ten thousand throats
closed up in private prayer, only the guy
behind us belting out his steady litany:
Knock his heart out! Knock his heart out, Sal!
and by then, I’m chewing down peanut
shells along with the nuts –
a story you’ll still be telling fifty years later.
What can I tell of the ninth, except it
hovers shimmering over the infield –
a shape-changing, rainbowed thing –
through each of the first three batters.
Then Blaylock grounds out to Gilliam who
heaves it to Hodges at first,
which is exactly when Sal’s no-hitter slips
into the history books,
and we begin getting it that we might live
happily ever after, after all.