Saturdays when I was 10, Pop and I played
catch in the back yard before dinner:
hand to glove to hand to glove,
rhythmic, simple silent, endless inning.
Sometimes I’d sense him winding up to pitch:
narrowing eyes, subtle twist of lip,
nervous rotating of the ball,
nod to an invisible catcher,
Without asking, I would crouch down, fist-smack
the saddle soap softened pocket of my glove,
make a target,
he always threw harder when he pitched.
Afterward, between sips of a cool drink,
Pop reminisced about pitching semi-pro,
placing rosined fingers on stitches just so,
releasing the ball,
how his elbow wouldn’t withstand
the twist because he played
First Violin and piano.
“I had to choose,” he’d say, voice trailing off,
a barely audible note bowed ever so softly.
“I quit baseball.”
Five decades pass.
Attending a symphony together,
intermission the seventh inning stretch.
Between sips of a cool drink
Pop reminisced about a distant summer, a chance
to play piano with a dance combo
at a Catskills resort.
Called up to the major leagues.
His father intervened:
“This is not music befitting my eldest son.
You want to play modern music?
You don’t want to play the violin?
Then don’t.” And took the instrument
and smashed it against my father
who never again touched a violin.
It was a calm telling, it was a telling calm.
Like one of those easy backyard tosses before a pitched battle.
Yet in that instant, silent stillness…
I heard the whoosh and crack as it swung and struck,
I felt the sting penetrate the padded glove of time,
and I understood. Sometimes Pop would
raise rosined bow
place fingers on strings just so
nod to an invisible conductor
…and pausing to put a little something extra on the ball…
Ira Slotkin is a Social Worker and an Approved Domestic Violence Treatment Provider in the State of Colorado, as well as a published poet and freelance writer. His son plays the saxophone.
This piece, with slight changes, appears on the website of the Cosmic Baseball Association.