The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
11.2 (Spring 2014)
courtesy of artrenewal.org
Junkyard of Dreams
I’ve always played baseball. I can’t remember when I didn’t. I must have had a bat in my hands even when I was in diapers. My dad and I would have games with my GI Joes while Mom was at work. We would move furniture out of the den until we had a park. I’d bat for all my team of Joes, but I’d also bat for myself. My shots went farthest. Sometimes the game would have to be suspended for five minutes while Dad fished our ball out of the topmost bookshelves. That was upper-deck. Wasn’t easy to get a Kleenex ball wound in Scotch Tape up there, either. Talk about a dead ball. But we couldn’t risk breaking anything. It was bad enough that Dad was out of work those years, or working part-time. To have Mom come home after a long day and find something broken on the mantelpiece… so I had to refine my swing, even then. Baseball was always adjustment and refinement.
Then when I got older, I had to refine more and more. Dad always said that I was lucky to be small, because the big kids wouldn’t have to learn good technique, but I would always have to get everything just right. I guess there was some truth in that. I’m not sorry that the game taught me my work ethic. I’m proud of my hard work. The part that didn’t come true, though, was that I would someday have this big growth spurt that would get me even with the big kids and send me there with solid fundamentals. I’ve never had anything but the fundamentals—not the size to go with them. It got me into college with a bit of a scholarship. But when all was said and done, having those fundamentals couldn’t get me off the bench. They would rather have size and the possibility of learning a little than a lot of learning but no possibility of size.
Seriously, what am I supposed to do? Hang around a mediocre school for my last two years just to sit on the bench—the kind of school so small that it would give someone like me a baseball scholarship? All the courses I need to graduate may not even be offered over the next two years. The best-case scenario is that I’m just one more Business major among millions. From a mediocre school. And for what? Just to say that I played ball?
A lot of guys who were better than I was—or who could hit home runs and light up the JUGS gun, anyway—quit a lot sooner than I did. They’ve enjoyed college. They’ve had a social life, they’ve been able to focus on their studies, and some of them went to pretty good schools. And most of them aren’t as smart as I am. But they’re going to come out with better educations. Always bigger, and now better educated. And soon to be better employed. They’ll have beautiful wives and nice houses while I’m still looking for a way in on the ground floor, and I’ll have nothing but a couple of years of college ball, mostly as a reliever and a second-stringer.
Why would I do that? Why did I do that?
I don’t guess I really regret what I did. I needed to go through it to understand that I couldn’t go through it any more. But now it has come to make completely no sense. Here I am in the middle of Iowa, a thousand miles from my family and friends. In a town that has nothing to do, surrounded by fields and barns. The people here say stuff like, “Eye dooon’t knooow,” like every long vowel is a chance to stretch out their mouths. I don’t even have a car.
And as for what I’ll do when I get home… Eye dooon’t knooow. If I finish college right away, it will have to be some place cheaper, and I’ll have to find a major that will get me a job. I’m not stupid. I should be able to do better than this.
Used to be that I couldn’t wait for Christmas and summer, so I could get together again with Landon and Ford. But Landon has a summer job out in Phoenix working for his stepfather, and I don’t really know Crawford any more. It’s like he’s depressed all the time whenever I touch base. If he enjoys seeing anyone, it’s not me.
I used to have these vicious daydreams about meeting Ridley, too. How we would just casually meet at some party, and she would ask me what I was doing, and I would tell her I was playing college ball… and I would just see it eating her up, in her eyes, and then I would say, “Good seeing you again!” and turn my back and walk away. How much of why I kept at baseball had to do with that daydream? That was kind of stupid. I won’t be running into her now, because I won’t be going to any parties where she might be. If I ran into her in a parking lot, I guess I’d pretend that I hadn’t seen her or didn’t know her.
Funny how all my life seems to have gone away with baseball. Everything I ever was, everyone I ever knew. It’s like being born again at twenty. I’m in diapers again, but I have no baseball bat. Everything I ever did was somehow built around the game. Almost all my friends played ball, and those that didn’t knew I was a ballplayer. That was part of who I was to them, maybe the largest part. When we talked about where we’d been over summer, my trips were all on travel teams, even though I didn’t say so. When I went off to college, I went because of that scholarship. Baseball isn’t all I ever was, but everything I ever was flowed out of it somehow.
So I’ve sat in the passenger seat all day long just looking at these fields that go on forever. I never even learned what they were. Some are corn, I guess, and some are wheat, and then you have the low green stuff that Mom says looks like cotton. But I doubt that it’s cotton up here. And it all runs on until you see that ridge line in the east, those hills that just go straight up like the papier-mâché ones we used to make for my train board. I always used to wonder what was on top of them—whether they lifted up into a long plateau or just went down again on the other side.
Now I guess I’ll never know. I can’t see myself ever coming back this way again. Not unless I were on business—and who would have business in a place like this? All my stuff is in the U-Haul. I’ve left nothing behind. Or maybe I’ve left two years of my life behind, that I’ll never get back. Why would I come back to see that? Or maybe this is where my baseball life came to die at last and be buried. And my baseball life, that was the biggest part of any life I ever had. Why would I come back to revisit that, now that I’ll have to try so hard to find a life?
Mom and Dad are asleep, but I’m lying in a Best Western bed typing by the light of my laptop and trying to figure it all out. Dad’s taking the baseball part very well. I think he’s almost relieved, in a way. And Mom… it’s like she sees us all together again, and me coming to the dinner table every night. I’m twenty years old, almost twenty-one. I really don’t want to be that guy who moves in back home. So it doesn’t help that I’m having this “sucked backward in time” feeling just when I’m trying to move forward. It’s not her fault, it’s mine. And it’s not baseball’s, either. But if I’m mad at anyone, I’m mad at baseball.
I used to write lyrics to songs, and I messed around composing a few verses in my head between dozes on the road today. When we get home, I’m going to write something in verse. Pull it all together and see what I’ve got. Probably nothing at all. Just another talent that I can’t market. The second thing in my life that I’ve worked at, that I feel reasonably good at—and I can’t make a living at either one.
Field of dreams to dream junkyard.
Wheat fields crammed in hopper cars.
Baseball cards in shoebox tombs,
Shoebox to the closet doomed.
Card to garbage, wheat to mill,
Dream to something dimmer still;
Player to a flannel suit,
Boy to man and man to brute.
Train to sidetrack no more used:
Green from weather turns to blue.
Pick-off plays to real estate;
Lonely rails to interstates.
Nicknamed “Scrap Iron”, now just scrap,
Last year’s heroes rust in fat.
Still the grain waves somewhere high:
Golden, infinite, and shy.
Still earth, water, wind, and sun
Life’s old engine slowly run.
What’s alive grows in that space:
What has died molds in that space.
Once their blond heads waving chased
In a windy sun-blond race
Deep fly balls of future cheers,
Reaching taller by the year.
Once the crack of bat was heard
Where the past and future blurred—
Where the instant Now took flight
(Yet its instants woven tight,
Like fine interlacing seams,
Out of past and future dreams).
Once days, always afternoon,
Held their breath while players moved
At the speed of light, and time
Bolted when by dark surprised
(Like a string of hopper cars
As the Diesel leaves the yard).
”Ball game” would the umpire call
When a last swing missed the ball:
Then tomorrow’s seeds were sown
In the settling dust of gloam.
In the books as yesterday
Were the failures of today—
And the triumphs, too: anew
Lived tomorrow afternoon,
Nights that distanced now from then
Nothing but an inning’s end:
Hours slack to cool and doze
When, dissolving in repose,
Balls that cleared the fences, slides
Safe past tag, and running dives
Stirred a crowd of thousands more
Than the sheaves that summer wore,
Waving blessings with their caps
As to say, Let Heaven clap!
All those gloves, bats, hitting tees—
Christmas gifts and legacies—
All those benches older boys
Left to rookie hopefuls, poised
For a grab at local fame,
An inch of print clipped for a frame—
All bore fruit, the summit reached,
As the baller fell asleep.
Trains are leaving Omaha
Bound for Fargo, Wichita,
Abilene, Sioux Falls, Saint Joe…
Every dusty watering hole
Hides a field in fields of corn.
Backstop, bleachers, warping boards
Meeting at an ad for Coke—
From the plate the farthest poke.
Every boondock has its nine
Whose dream-chase has gone part-time.
Now if they the rails exploit
To Chicago or Detroit,
No one pays their way, unless
Boardroom deals need their finesse.
No one pays to see them play
Sunday afternoons away.
No one scouts them; no alert
Whispers hints about their curve.
Once the train, when they were boys,
Sang of city lights and joys
Promised by the gods to few:
Blond Adonis dreamed and grew.
Now at night the quavering horn
Draws its fingers over the corn
Like a touch that shuts the eyes
Of a face whose dreams have died.
Grain grows tall, and harvest comes.
Combines in the blond hair run.
Grass is baled, and cows come home.
Distant ridges frown in stone.
Soon the fields are silent white,
Colder than a silent night.
A frequent contributor of poetry in recent years, George Shirley lives in South Carolina, where he is increasingly involved in the home-school movement. He credits a certain member of our staff with inspiring him to write the piece above.