At Great Kills Field, Staten Island two days before I turn 68
By Robert Bohm

When the fathers lean against the chain-link backstop, each
grimly eyeing the details
of his son’s playing, the baby
in a stroller next to the bleachers
takes no notice, instead cooing
mindlessly at the breeze, not yet having learned
what fathers at the backstop do
to kids who don’t realize quickly
that since nothing’s for free
& waiting’s a form of stupidity
if they don’t play for keeps now
they’re up Shit’s Creek without a paddle for good.

In earthen pots on townhouse balconies
facing the water, in a month
chrysanthemums will bloom, smudges

of color briefly, if
at all, glimpsed
by drivers cruising west across the Outerbridge Crossing into

Perth Amboy. But not now. It’s early August
and the sun
parches everything, beating

pedestrians’ necks & turning
the skin into a leather tough enough for making
muzzles for dogs
or a leash

for holding back, one
January morning 6 years ago, Pablo Murillo, thereby
stopping him

from punching in
at ASCO, the NJ chemical complex
along the river where
at 10:43 a.m. that day

an acetylene explosion, as blistering
as the August sun now, shook
the ground so violently that across the water

here on Staten Island
men & women panicked, feeling
the tremors all the way
to Kills Field & wondering if

terrorists had struck again. But it was only
a chemical plant accident, one of those

unpredictable moments, like those
that occur in the middle of a ballgame,
when things fall apart
& the time comes for the losers to suck it up
& pay their dues

with their souls, which is what

Murillo did:
gave up the ghost
in the ASCO explosion
& died. Now

in memoriam
fathers lean against the chain-link backstop, shrieking
at their sons
to do what they’re told: keep

their eyes on the ball & hustle like
there’s no tomorrow so they can win
no matter what
or else they’ll end up

like Murillo
a riverbank corpse or
even worse
wandering at 40 from one little league ballpark to the next
the blown at-bats & flubbed grounders that
one after another
the coming years, other failures, death.

As the game continues, the fathers take turns
going to the Porta Potty to relieve themselves
& also to read
the writing on the walls, even though
they long ago
were put off by the graffiti there, the sex
invitations & salvation cons scrawled by those
hoping to entice their sons
off the field, beyond the dugout
to who knows where. Only now, with
the cramped place’s stink
sickening them & the walls
closing in, do
the fathers realize this is it, the game’s final inning
& that no matter how often they or their offspring sprint
around the bases
they’ll always end up here, in
the Porta Potty
unable to stop
their rage, their tears.

Note written after leaving Rm. 215, Woodbridge Hampton Inn, Rt. 9, NJ
By Robert Bohm

A catcher, I won the trophy for best baseball player
in 8th grade, 1957.
Soon afterwards I developed a swagger, half
Billy Martin, the Yanks’ 2nd baseman who
according to the NY Daily News
started fights in every nightclub he could find,
and half mobster
like Macaruso, the local barber, a numbers guy
whose way of walking was the epitome
of a wordless speech that decreed, “Don’t
fuck with me.”
A pale imitation of everything
I craved to be, I was a nothing, my sneer
failing to disguise
the Clearasil-caked whiteheads that proclaimed
my virginity.
That was 60 years ago when Erika Daniels’ breasts
grew into their c-cups
like competing epistemologies
seeking their limits
in a world in which death row was filled
with condemned ideas whose 5 o’clock shadows hid mouths painted
with the prettiest lipstick.
Still, ignoring
the evidence & pretending I was what
tomorrow longed for
I hit homers
in the summer leagues
until 17 when, finally
not knowing what else to do, I disappeared
into Basil’s Poolhall to study
the physics of the cue ball’s skill
at knocking the other balls off the table even when
it was outnumbered, then
5 years later
I reemerged, a fast-talker with a lot of pals
but hardly any friends. By then
I didn’t need to pack a pistol
to catch cops’ eyes:
my crime was clear,
I was alive —
&, worse, no longer believed
that throwing out a runner at second base
meant showing chaos what was what
or that snagging a foul pop-up while colliding with the backstop
was practice for body-slamming open
the loony-bin door to escape
the nurses’ capsule-sized eyes, which
waited so seductively for me
to suck them out of their sockets & let
my mind
finally tranquilized
Now here I am, decades afterwards, & just
the other day someone, angered
by what I said, yelled
“You’re an old man & nobody
wants to listen to what you have to say!”
& yet, thick-skulled and unyielding, here
I am, still writing, delighted by the feel
that my heart’s
once again
about to burst!