DC PLACES ISSUE

Joshua Weiner


NATIONAL PASTIME
(Washington D.C., 2002)

Late spring evenings at the neighborhood diamond,
the light a mellow custard before the bugs come out,
extra dads walk the outfield spotting for glass and dog shit,
anticipating season’s end with each spill of Gatorade.
When the league director shows up with a surprise invitation,
who can believe it: Eli's team to play the South Lawn,
inexplicably, with the worst record in the league; until
a parent points out later, "He's courting the Spanish vote,"
the District's one bilingual school, pitching logic into relief.
The parents mostly Democrats, labor lawyers, journalists,
the coach a Mid-East peace negotiator, explicably
out of work—should we boycott, or protest somehow
the children's fairy tale finale? Should our
censure ruin the six-year olds'
requested appearance at the White House?—Conviction
competing with conviction, we hear
our cameras calling to be fingered from their sleep.

Game day, fresh Cardinal duds throw glow
on expectant faces, the new world order here a batting roster.
Players take positions, charmed by the announcer’s melody
massaging the mind as if in Camden Yards.
Bush sweats with pleasure, Big Kid among the kids,
with Tom Ridge coaching first, his designated
radio curling like an ear inside his ear;
Mayor Williams coaches third, his bemused stoic posture
resigned to the symbolic placement;
and the Orioles mascot works
the parents in the stand, the staffers, and special invites—
families of the most recent
publicly acknowledged Pentagon dead.

Mercifully, one inning, two photo ops, and a picnic.
A White House reporter approaches Eli for an interview;
the tape recorder insinuating official history,
the boy’s back straightens as if tied to puppet strings.
“If you were putting together a team
and you had to choose between President Bush
and Cal Ripken, who would you choose?”
Eli thinks a moment, shrugging off expectations.
“Cal Ripken,” he throws back.
“And why is that?”—the newsman's glove is ready.
“He's a real baseball player.” (Pitching logic into relief).

Laid out under shade, on grass plush as any carpet,
I watch the team of marksmen camouflaged in foliage along the fence,
binoculars searching the streets while the House music spins
—is this possible?—Wild Cherry, 1976,

“I tried to understand this /
I thought they were out of their minds /
How could I be so foolish / To not see
I was the one behind”—behind the fence,
inside the game, America's favorite
pastime, America’s number one show, streaming back through

the bicentennial Tomahawk testing Legionnaire’s disease,
Israel to Ford: Send in the Clowns Saul Bellow Rocky All
the President’s Men, as the New York Yankees
take Entebbe, Pol Pot makes use of the Steadicam
and the Supreme Court, after great deliberation, rules that
Robert Lowell’s Selected Poems is neither inherently cruel nor unusual,
though Richard Leakey’s discovery falls
outside their jurisdiction: a skull of homo erectus from 1.5 million years ago;
and when he lifts it to his ear like a transistor radio
it sings to him the song I hear “losing every step by the way,”
snaking through Tom Ridge’s wire, the soundtrack
to Colin Powell’s tears, “burnin’ down
the night stands” of President Bush’s brain—

And just when / it hit me / somebody turned around
and shouted / ‘Play that funky music, white boy, /
Play that funky music right / Play that funky music,
white boy / Lay down that boogie, and play
that funky music till you die /
Till you die / Oh, till
you die’”

—deciduous giants of the South Lawn stretching out their arms,
leaves whispering frantically to an empty blue sky . . .

 

 

Joshua Weiner is the author of two books of poetry, From the Book Of Giants (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2006) and The World’s Room (U of Chicago, 2001). He lives in Washington, DC.


Published in Volume 7, Number 3, Summer 2006.

To read more by this author:
Joshua Weiner

Credits: Thanks to the University of Chicago Press for permission to reprint.