Originally read: March 11, 2013
More information about the Poet: Maxine Kumin
How long did it take me to know that this was a poem with baseball imagery, probably by the second line. How long did it take me to realize that this is not a sonnet, just recently. I think I wanted this to be a sonnet, I just miscalculated the stanzas (one extra) when I read it the first time. However, this is important because there's no hard volta in the poem -- not in the couplet. I feel the tone throughout the poem is the same -- a sense of wonder built by the imagery.
In the first stanza there's imagery of baselines, peanuts, and catcher's mitt -- but look how they operate. The Baseline imagery is followed up by slight alliteration "smoothed to suede" which brings a visual dreamlike quality to the image -- something real in a surreal sense. Then comes the the peanuts line, "ancient smell of peanuts" which should appeal to the sense of smell; however, there's a line drawn in a sand with the word "ancient." Paired along with peanuts the smell should elicit a sense of nostalgia and/or history of the game; however, if someone (like myself) doesn't know the smell of peantus at a baseball game -- then the word ancient tells of the history of baseball through smell -- different sets of experiences with the same line. Lastly, there's the sound imagery, "the harsh smack / the ball makes burrowing into the catcher's mitt" there's also a play of the word "smack" as in hit, but the sound is about catching something.
So why such detail in four lines, there's the introduction of the you -- and all the imagery feels like how the "you" would experience Spring Training. This is "you"'s mindset. There's more description of the you as ten and a location Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox <insert applause or boos here>). Also the word, "suppertime" brings a certain age into the poem -- to me there's kind of a nostalgia with "suppertime."
Following the narrative into the third stanza, the ten year old "you" has "goosebumps in the dark" from the "keepsake ball" -- the diction adds to the sense of wonder and amazement about the game. The next two lines describes the boy playing baseball with a "secondhand glove" which he softens with oil and tapes up his bat -- physical action to describe the boy being enamored with the game on a league level to a personal level. Note, no emotions, just actions to prove devotion.
The second to last stanza fast forwards years later where the boy (now a man in the physical sense) is still enamored, "whatever league you're in / still tantalize" then the allusion to Carl Hubbell's magical screwball which is "sixty years unhittable." The adjective/noun combination shows a sense of age, but foreshadows a sense of defeat as well.
With the couplet, inevitably when writing a poem about age, there's a death that comes through in the diction of "Sunset comes late but comes." Yes, there's the image of the sunset, however, the diction of "late but comes" brings a sense of sentiment to the poem -- not the sentiment I harp on as overly emotional, but the sentiment that explains that death happens in which the statement is obscured by images. Past me wrote, "The end is sentimental 'for the future; mentality couplet, line reads like from a retired player." Well that's a harsh way to put it.
Yes, the "slender hook of hope" is sentimental but for who -- for Victor? At this point, I don't think the poem cares about audience because the audience is for Victor -- the sentiment is for Victor, the reader is just to observe the why.