Imagine an arena. Picture a ballroom. Place your feet at a center. There are folding chairs. There are waitresses. There are ring girls, holding numbers, and pushing out their chests with smiles, beckoning to the dark faces in the crowd. The mayor is here. There are politicians, businessmen, athletes, entertainers, journalists, personalities, middlemen, yesmen, clerks, bartenders, carpenters, bakers, mechanics, paper pushers, drivers, riders, attendants, cooks, fratboys and everyone else with a set of teeth in their mouths and cash in their pockets. The men pump their fists wild and thump their chests when the lights go black. Rumbles and cracks, footsteps and wires, gates and long white arms reaching past them, the entourage brushing them aside, they stare into the cameras and away pretending not to notice, too present to care. The muscled fighters are taut and wait to explode. They wait to evoke the remembered sound of crunching bones and the battered remorse of bruising skin with their fists. They wait to target and strike, mangy and disciplined, to bob and weave, pop and jab, pause and blink, and dance, dance, dance, into oblivion. The gloves meet and they begin.
There is a brown ball. It spirals and shifts in the air. Eleven men storm down the field, pushing and shoving, grinding and colliding. The cameras watch the ball as it dances, it twitches and spins after the sore punt of foot and pigskin. Through the gap in his mask, the man sees the ball move closer to him, getting bigger and bigger, and uglier and calmer. Every person on the field has his back or wants it. Every beefy fallen warrior is on the side of the field, yelling some putrid advice, ignored or unheard, lost in the growing thicket, the men just run and run, they can’t pause and reflect, not now. Every face in the stands owns a piece of their skin, they holler and cheer, the game is going to begin, they can burn the barn, or sit and check their watches, the ball is hung in the air now, and from the press box to the glow of the portable television belonging to a lonely man in an icehouse out on the frozen lake, they all know something is about to happen.
Things have to start somewhere. Here, it is a lazy self congratulatory moment, to end the festivities, white men smiling and shaking hands, and nodding, just too stand sixty feet from a plate and heave some embarrassing exercise of Americana, to only fall short or far off. Is this an icebreaker, or does this seal our fate? Roosevelt hit a Washington Post camera. And we are only 54 outs away from the next time a geezer, a celebrity, a dignitary or some promotional recipient, will stand in the field that thousands have before and feel like the first, the tufts of grass wisping at their ankles.. Maybe they will be ambidextrous. Maybe they will be like Bill and actually make it to the catchers mitt. But most will be like George, and show up a half inning late, most will throw underhand and wince at their creaking joints, their falling status. Doesn’t a ritual imply a death?
There will always be something bigger.
The Paris Peace Conference.
A dying father.
The Velacruz Incident
World War One.
A family gathering.
World War Two.
Friends on sinking ships.
When they made the man into a martyr.
I could never see a poet throwing out the first pitch.
Then the man behind it all puts on his mask. Play ball.