David Baker
cardinals in spring
after whitman

Tens of thousands on the wing, perennial in April
--think how pure we are now, in retrospect--
tens of thousands in our red caps wheeling down
from Davenport, St. Charles, from Boonville by the river,
from our populous sadnesses driven,

from our seedy backyards driven,
from the bullies and yahoos and doddering folk
of our neighborhoods driven to reclaim
our rightful seats, St. Louis, Busch Stadium, 1968, the same
as '67, as '66, and the season's first pitch.


I don't deny this whole thing
is designed to celebrate our most common desires:
it's spring, we want to win, things grow, we feel
inside ourselves the power of something so immense and primitive
it spreads out unchecked, ritual. Redbirds! we sing

as they take the field, uniforms like shiny hieroglyphs,
and scatter across the Astroturf, a sun-fit plain of green stuff
hopefully forever so green, our latest synthesis
of industry, imagination, and the persistent pastoral archetype.
We're all here, never more perfect than now ...


Brock of the basepath, never more perfect than now,
Javier of the hopping grounder, never quicker,
Flood in his field, and Shannon, and Maxvill at short,
McCarver-in-a-crouch, and suddenly Gibby
whipping his warm-ups in from the natural dirt of the mound . . .

Mom with her bag of fried chicken, Dad with his cooler,
Dad with his scorecard and program, my brother next to him,
Uncle Buster crowding down who yesterday flipped
a knuckler behind his back so powerfully
it arched through an upstairs window . . . never more perfect than now.


What is it? I wonder, and Buster brings his arm up to me.
We're all in our red, at last in our row,
Green Level, Section 6, and everywhere the fragrance
of hotdogs and beer, the press of bodies, the voices of thousands
like us chattering, communally wild. 0 what is it?

and now Buster opens his hand, his pure-white present,
and everyone is applauding in one body,
and the sun flames down, and the pressbox glasses over, adazzle,
and I am jumping; and now I think it must be
the icy chiseled heart of winter melting in his outheld palm,


It is that incredible; and now I think
it is the pure/seamy duality of rewritten lives crossing, forever
stitched in red, the yin and yang of postmodern expression,
and nothing less; and now the hatching egg of hope;
and he looks at me, and now I think it is

an antique opaque eyeball, a foggy crystal ball
through which even cliche transcends itself and so signifies
our inarticulate, collective excitement that nothing
in particular, always already, is happening with sensational urgency
. . . and now he's giving it to me. . . .


But how can I know that? How can I say all that?
How can I be 13 and 33 at once, cursed and blessed, crying
with all the fever and joy of the stupid
who know the truth and can't speak it, yet speaking, here . . .
he's giving it to me, and I hold it, a baseball

signed by the entire team! I know it: This is mine
to love!
the whole weighty globe of it, the tens of thousands
in our companionable nest, even the other team loping afield . . .
whoever they are, my own affections having blurred,
for a moment, all the individual images. . . .


When we stand, as we must, when the silence
And fragrant calm settle over us all, as surely they must,
and the caps come off and our hands flutter up
to our felt hearts, when we begin to sing
in a voice so singular it redoubles, echoing off the sky,

we stretch ourselves proud and pulsing, and the music,
like an organic truth, throbs through our veins and temples,
and over the land of the free, over the vendors and hawkers,
over athletes and umps, the fireworks blossom
into smoke-puffs and thunder like the storms of creation.


The moment before its beak breaks through the tender shell,
doesn't the fledgling struggle for its whole species,
doesn't its becoming, at that moment, signify freedom and flight,
doesn't longing belong to the family of hope?
And when we sit back trembling and rapt with anticipation,

don't we personify our teeming, human compulsions?
Yet how can we say these things in real life?
All in the space of a moment, between silence and screaming,
between breath and breath, suspended in the nether-sphere
of original joy, aren't we, in each other, renewed?


O thousands of us, tens of thousands with our souvenirs
and our statistics committed to memory where all things
change for the better, we are the bodies of one desire.
And now Gibby, across the semi-precious green diamond,
across the dumbstruck years, stares in for his sign, turns,

and hurtles the first pitch forth, winging it outward,
and we are leaping up, mouthing our first word 0,
and the ball leaves his whipped arm, and hangs there, for us all,
for this moment, this beginning, where we see it still,
all of us, 0! never more perfect than now.

      reprinted from Sweet Home, Saturday Night

David Baker's publisher: University of Arkansas Press

David Baker is the author of seven books, most recently a collection of poems, The Truth About Small Towns, and a books of essays, Heresy and the Ideal: On Contemporary Poetry, both published by the University of Arkansas Press. He teaches at Denison University and in the MFA program for writers at Warren Wilson College, and is also poetry editor of The Kenyon Review. He has just been awarded a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation for 2000-2001.


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