– (Macon, 1960)
Sprawled like a lounging frog behind his desk,
he sipped his Early Times and propped his feet,
as he considered his sole hole from scores
of games in the unholy Georgia heat.
He removed his shoe and ran his finger through
and wiggled it. It was dark, well past eight.
He was alone; even maintenance was gone.
It was high time to set the record straight.
“Coach Ben, those boys don’t show an ounce of grit,”
he said out loud and held his bottle high.
“It takes an act of Congress to get it round
The horn. Last game we dropped an easy fly.
Or take that time our jack-leg short stop tripped
And fell on second base, then caught the throw
From the catcher smack in the middle of his face.
It took an hour to staunch the bloody flow.”
He set the whiskey down and grabbed a bat.
“A thousand times I’ve showed ‘em how to swing.
You’ve got to roll the wrists, go meet the ball.
Stand there, flat feet, and while you’re considering,
the ball’s already in the catcher’s mitt.
And when you swing the bat—swing! Tell the Truth!
Rip it like you’re swinging for the fence
like Mantle, Williams, Aaron, Gehrig, Ruth.
He stepped outside where the moon lit up the field.
And, as always, his eyes sought out and found the pole,
dead center, where, by day, the flag waved and where
young Bobby Grace had given up his soul.
Coach Ben could hear the bat crack still, could see
him peddling back to keep the ball in view.
The crowd—who already thought the boy was Willie Mays,
since he’d made more saving plays than was his due—
was screaming, wild for him to make the catch.
Instead, he smashed into what he could not see.
The coach had held him as the life ebbed out
of his youthful eyes into eternity.
“Coach Ben” he said, hoarsely, “he was the boy.”
He let his memories go skittering
across the field of years and tried to recall
the moment when his heart had ceased to sing.
Later that night he turned into his drive
and cut his lights, then paused a moment before
he let himself into the empty house.
He checked the mailbox by the dark front door:
The usual bills. How many times he’d ripped
them open; yet none of them had seen his face.
He flipped through every item. They were all
addressed to him, to Benjamin Robert Grace.