(A Shaggy Dog Poem)

Some words unnerve like people do,
confusing with their promise.
Your sudden visit, from the blue,
brings to mind a case in point:
that shifty word, ballata.

Is it the new "forbidden dance"?
A folk song from the Renaissance?
An ancient form of martial art?
A secret left-wing movement?
("My comrades in the ballata,
tonight we liberate Minsk!")
Perhaps it is a native grain?
A kind of prehistoric fish?
Or just some gutter expletive?
("You son of a ballata!")

Then I learned, in World War II
rubber had become so scarce,
they tried a gummy substitute
to fill the core of baseballs.
It had the name ballata.
But when a bat touched these balls,
their sole trajectory was down.
They didn't bounce; they hugged the ground.
Two strikes and ballata was out.

Which takes my rambling thoughts to you--
so casual, just passing through.
It seems, how long, a hundred years
since last I saw you in the flesh.
Your rose has given up some bloom;
my plant stays firmly potted.
Yet though it's bottom of our ninth,
I hear the National Anthem.
My ump cries out Play ball!

Each time I sidle to the plate,
you stare me down from the mound.
What you pitch, I still can't touch.
Your infinite variety
of curves and biting sliders,
they tie me up inside.
And then, my final turn at bat
(Bronx cheers raining from the crowd;
redemption one good poke away),
my mind wanders from the game.
The ball, the bat, a cloudless sky.
See the fences disappear˙
the players float like balloons˙
the fans peel off all their clothes
and throw them as confetti.
Everything is possible
save for hitting that damn ball.

Strike three called, while I dream.
Baseball is a subtle game;
less subtle, by half, than freedom.
You taught me love in absence.
Even more, in defiance
of simple cause and effect...
of history and tendency...
of box scores and their tabled truth.
At times I'm almost grateful,
if gratitude could show its face
below the Mendoza Line.

For you, nostalgia has its charm;
for me, I live in present tense.
I need new words to close the loop,
to make sense as you vanish.
So, remember this when we part:
You've been, you are, you always will
be the ballata of my heart.

Novemeber 1998; last revised July 1999
Copyright © 1999 by Thomas Guarnera

THOMAS GUARNERA is a marketing manager by day, would-be poet by night, and baseball fan 24 hours a day. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two children, residing in the same town as Phil Rizzuto (holy cow)! Thomas has published in e-mail magazines and reads frequently in the New York metropolitan area. A lifelong Mets fan, he still has flashbacks to 1969, being in the stands for Tom Seaver's 8 1/3 innings of perfect game against the Chicago Cubs.

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Thomas Guarnera Poetry
Published: April 14, 2000
Copyright © 2000 by the Cosmic Baseball Association