Thoughts stray with the crescent moon,
wend their way to summer evenings
freckled with boys,
well-creased mitts,
pockets greased with Neat’s Foot Oil.
A sphere and a string
squeezed ’round
an autographed “Mickey Mantle”
or, in my case, as a Detroit Tiger fan,
an “Al Kaline.”
One of us would hit ’em out.
The Louisville Slugger would sing
its solid thwack
like a note from “The Star-Spangled Banner,”
back when everyone knew the words —
and not today’s tinny aluminum plink.

As shadows swallowed streets
a far-off voice called,
“Boys, isn’t it getting too dark
for you to be playing ball?”
The shadows were our camouflage.
The voice dissolved in dusky air.
We played on.
At each crack of the bat,
the fielders edged back a bit
from the less and less manifest batsman.

“Boys, it really is too dark
to play now.”
Somehow, we equated not being seen
with not being compelled to answer.
If there was a streetlight,
we never seemed to be playing under it.
Who would have dreamt of moving home plate
from its natural spot
where the splotch of discolored sidewalk
intersected the Russells’ driveway
to form the perfect infield:
a telephone pole first base,
fire hydrant third,
polished with a diamond-making
manhole cover at second?

“All right, boys. Time to get
in the house RIGHT NOW!”

Nobody wanted to be first,
first to admit
he couldn’t see,
first to admit
he was tired, or weak, or afraid.
None of us ever wants
to spoil the game,
to quit
give in
give up.
sometimes we simply play
the ball