Phillies vrs. Cardinals (September 24th, 1981)

By George Korolog

We’re going elsewhere, somewhere perilously white, and even

cranking up the sound of the Phillies game on the radio is not

quite enough to impede the sense of an approaching dull grey,

 

inside and out. There is a drooping in the air, sucking oxygen

from the pistons, causing the car to stall on occasion. Bees are

sleeping in a shallow curve under the front windshield. I’m all-in,

 

thinking of another place where I can grow into, still. We small

talk that feels even smaller, trying to steep ourselves with old

tales, seeking an unruffled space, repeating stories that we have

 

shared a hundred times, but laugh at now as if they were new,

like when I was two and I rolled down the basement stairs, ten

of them, in a stroller, hit the bottom, upright and laughing, or

 

the time you had to jerk my embedded knee off the sawed down

aluminum fence pole, impaled while diving into first, or the time

while running wild on River Beach that I nearly cut off my toe

 

when I stepped on the razor lid of a tuna fish can and we sped

frantically to the hospital with my leg flopping out the window,

a white towel wrapped around my foot, gushing red waterfall,

 

thinking, this is what we have to laugh about, escapes, latent

dooms thwarted, now examined in the rear view mirror as

benign dreams, the assurance that one day, we will also recall

 

this car ride, this story, and laugh once more, another menace

escaped. Sitting in the parking lot, we’re taut bird watchers in

the late afternoon, not wanting to startle anything from its roost,

 

blood pheasants, long legged buzzards and the swallow tailed

crutches, but they’re on the move anyway, clipped wings and

all, scurrying toward the hospital entrance. We can’t fly away

 

any better than they can, so we decide to sit in the car for another

inning. Dad’s got his favorite hat on, one of fifty, but this is the

one that I see him wear  to bed in summer, the one he was born

 

in, the brim now brewing brown from everyman sweat, deck

varnish, dried cement, green stains from the lawn, a trace of

pine tar from the days when he played the game. I reach over

 

and rub his liver marks, every one of which looks like a painting

from my life in assorted brown pastels. A pool of vomit on the

floor where I heaved after coming home drunk as a boy.  And

 

there, at the base of his thumb, he is sitting intently in the stands,

hands to his chin, watching me as I slide home, amazingly, to win

the game.  Now, I’m yearning for the bleachers instead, waiting in

 

section 204 for that long arching foul ball, the well oiled gloves

that we exchanged as birthday presents, open and ready, but we’re

still wedged here in the car, bottom of the first. Dad turns towards

 

They’re going to by-pass Manny Trillo and walk him.

 

me and winks. ”By-pass, he says?  “Get it?” He smiles, but he’s

not familiar with roungers, cannulas and dilators, or with his chest

being popped open like cracked crab.  He’s used to bartering with

 

umpires, with players, not with anonymous surgeons who don’t

understand what it means to have a great cutter that slashes in and

down, disappearing with a pop. We leave the car, dad cradling the

 

transistor radio, adjusting the dial as we walk, keeping the game

in range as we walk towards the front door of the hospital. When

we get to the admission desk, a woman with electric striped red

 

glasses and ruby fat fingers asks him “when was the last time you

have eaten anything?” and he looks up at the ceiling, smiling and

I know that he is teetering on the edge of a dirty joke. She attaches

 

a plastic wrist band with images of smiley faces, stars twinkling,

which is supposed to be reassuring, as if we’re going to read

children’s stories all cuddled up in flannel pajamas when we get

 

to his room and they’re not going to split him open and butterfly

him like a boned breast, bring his heart to a dead stop with potassium

nitrate and breathe him through a metal cabinet. We step out of the

 

elevator and edge past patients shuffling in blue cotton sock skates,

descending on polished linoleum, pushing their skeleton walkers

with unwell wheels, ears tilting toward the hum of the fans, trying

 

to understand where the game is coming from, why the crowd is

cheering, where they can get a hot dog and a beer and by the way

what is the score?  We overhear the nurses whispering promises to

 

Boone drives a long fly ball down the line.  It’s gone!

 

them about how cute they are, pretending, with the kind of conviction

that makes a good coach, the game’s not over until the last out. Still

got a chance. Took Dad down to surgery in the top of the fourth.

 

Last I saw, he was humming “Take me out to the Ball Game,” flat

out on the gurney, with his transistor radio tucked into the heated

white blankets by his head, game on.  His head shot up for a final

 

look back as if he was challenging the call at the plate as they slid

him through the swinging double doors. Innings later, I stood next

to him in intensive care.  He could barely open his eyes, but I

 

understood when he gave me the sign.  I leaned down and whispered

“Phillies 5, Cardinals 0.  I knew where he went, back into the stands,

arm around me, grinning, with a beer, not in this white, cold place.

 

 

——————–

George Korolog is an active member of The Stanford Writers Studio.  He has had his work published in numerous print and online journals such as Forge, Punchnel’s, Poets&Artists, Red River Review, Poetry Quarterly, Connotation Press, Naugatuck River Review, Willows Wept Review, Corvus, Contemporary Haibun, Stone Highway Review, Riverbabble, Blue Fifth, Grey Sparrow Journal, Blue Lake Review, The Centrifugal Eye and many others.  His poem, “From tending sheep to confusion on the Amtrak 10:50” won second prize ($1,000) in the prestigious 2011 Tom Howard/John H. Reid Poetry Contest.  He was a runner up in the 2012 in the Contemporary American Poetry Prize for his poem, “Soul Stone. He is presently compiling his first book, Raw String.


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