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What baseball is, according to this lifetime fan

Gail Mazur says she’s been obsessed with baseball her whole life. “I grew up in Boston. My dad knew Ted Williams. Being a Red Sox fan is a lifetime mania and an important part of my lore.”

In spite of that mania, Mazur says she resisted the temptation to write any poems about baseball because she worried about the seeming cliche that the game is a metaphor for life.

“I knew I couldn’t write about baseball as tragedy because of course it’s not real tragedy. But when your team loses, it feels like tragedy.”

When she finally did write “Baseball,” Mazur said the poem came to her almost fully formed and it became the final poem of her first collection. Instead of worrying about the cliche, she poked fun at it.

“Everything just came together for me. The humor of it. The kinds of characters you meet at baseball games and in life. It was kind of a breakthrough poem for me.”

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In addition to her beloved Red Sox, Mazur has a passion for the underdog, so she’s been rooting for both the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians this year. But she says she’s in such a state of “high anxiety” about the presidential election that watching the World Series has only added to the stress.

“Usually baseball is a great distraction and you displace your other feelings on to it. This year the series has made me feel boxed in. I wake up in the middle of the night to check the final score, but I can’t watch the games.”

Mazur has published baseball poems in the two collections that followed her debut, but hasn’t written any since. “Maybe next year, as they say,” Mazur said with a laugh.

Baseball

for John Limon

The game of baseball is not a metaphor
and I know it’s not really life.
The chalky green diamond, the lovely
dusty brown lanes I see from airplanes
multiplying around the cities
are only neat playing fields.
Their structure is not the frame
of history carved out of forest,
that is not what I see on my ascent.

And down in the stadium,
the veteran catcher guiding the young
pitcher through the innings, the line
of concentration between them,
that delicate filament is not
like the way you are helping me,
only it reminds me when I strain
for analogies, the way a rookie strains
for perfection, and the veteran,
in his wisdom, seems to promise it,
it glows from his upheld glove,

and the man in front of me
in the grandstand, drinking banana
daiquiris from a thermos,
continuing through a whole dinner
to the aromatic cigar even as our team
is shut out, nearly hitless, he is
not like the farmer that Auden speaks
of in Breughel’s Icarus,
or the four inevitable woman-hating
drunkards, yelling, hugging
each other and moving up and down
continuously for more beer

and the young wife trying to understand
what a full count could be
to please her husband happy in
his old dreams, or the little boy
in the Yankees cap already nodding
off to sleep against his father,
program and popcorn memories
sliding into the future,
and the old woman from Lincoln, Maine,
screaming at the Yankee slugger
with wounded knees to break his leg

this is not a microcosm,
not even a slice of life

and the terrible slumps,
when the greatest hitter mysteriously
goes hitless for weeks, or
the pitcher’s stuff is all junk
who threw like a magician all last month,
or the days when our guys look
like Sennett cops, slipping, bumping
each other, then suddenly, the play
that wasn’t humanly possible, the Kid
we know isn’t ready for the big leagues,
leaps into the air to catch a ball
that should have gone downtown,
and coming off the field is hugged
and bottom-slapped by the sudden
sorcerers, the winning team

the question of what makes a man
slump when his form, his eye,
his power aren’t to blame, this isn’t
like the bad luck that hounds us,
and his frustration in the games
not like our deep rage
for disappointing ourselves

the ball park is an artifact,
manicured, safe, “scene in an Easter egg”,
and the order of the ball game,
the firm structure with the mystery
of accidents always contained,
not the wild field we wander in,
where I’m trying to recite the rules,
to repeat the statistics of the game,
and the wind keeps carrying my words away.


Reprinted with the permission of the author.


Gail Mazur is the author of seven poetry collections, most recently “Forbidden City” (University of Chicago Press, March 2016). Her book “Zeppo’s First Wife: New & Selected Poems” was the winner of the 2006 Massachusetts Book Award, a finalist for the 2005 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize. Mazur was a Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emerson College and Founding Director of the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge.

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