Invoking The Gods Of My Youth (Written In 1984) - Poem by Max Reif
Stand by me in my sleep,
Make the mudra* of Peace to drive away
The monsters of the night.
Go from your restaurant of day
To don your heroic guise once more
And be my guide
To take me back,
Through the pathways of my ages,
Along that winding stair,
To a green-walled vision
Nestled at Grand and Dodier streets,
In a sleezy northside neighborhood,
The crowd pouring along the street,
The hotdog vendors and the scorecard hawkers,
Hands held up, with grizzled faces,
In their Cardinal jackets.
Inside that enclave,
Is the myth still re-enacted
In a world we do not see?
In the outfield there’s Bill Virdon,
And dark-browed Wally Moon,
And fleet Curt Flood—
Kenny Boyer at third base
And Javier at second;
Well-traveled Alvin Dark at short.
The catcher is Hal Smith,
In his strange, shamanic garb,
And you at first, o Donora gazelle,
Chained, like Prometheus,
To a base, forbidden to wander
The outfield pastures
Because your legs are gone.
On the mound we have wine-dark Bob Gibson,
Larry Jackson, Lindy McDaniel
And his flashy brother, Von,
Who came full-blown from youth
Without the minor leagues,
And Wilmer, “Winegar Bend” Mizell,
And in the dugout, looming like a dark ship on the sea,
Eddie Stanky, Solly Hemus, and Fred Hutchinson,
Each briefly, for the team
Could never win a game.
The knights of legend come to town for battle,
Questing ‘round the land:
“Big Klu” of mighty muscles, and the Duke,
whose secret is his avocado farm,
and Jewish Sandy Koufax,
who will not pitch on Sabbath;
Hank Aaron and the “Say-Hey Kid”,
And rumored heroes whom
We never get to see,
Who don’t make it to our city:
Al Kaline, kneeling on his baseball card
Upon his long, heraldic bat,
And Ted, of Boston, Williams;
Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford.
I remember, Stash,
When you were thirty-nine,
And the ‘Birds were way behind,
In the late innings,
The shadows deepening on the field,
And you came to bat,
Like Mighty Casey at the plate.
I said to the guy behind us,
“The Man can do it.”
You crouched into your stance,
And went into your dance,
And drove the stitched, white pellet from the park,
And the sadness from the crowd.
The guy behind us smiled. “I said
The Man could do it, ” I rejoined,
And I felt emotion’s chill,
And victory’s thrill,
As he, my dad and I
Three in one.
I invoke your lineage,
Your forbears in earlier mythology—
Dizzy Dean and Christy Mathewson,
Walter “Big Train” Johnson, and “The Babe”;
Ty Cobb, who slid in with spikes flying,
And Rube Waddell, who they’d find
Off with the firemen somewhere, putting out a blaze
When it was his turn to pitch,
And back in the dawns of time,
Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, New York;
And before that, cricket,
And before that, who knows what?
Protect me, Stash, so that
I may see the new Stadium
Not as a wilderness
Of “lumpen”, plastic grass and beer,
But may be whole and find
The old color
In Tomorrow’s Game.
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