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Marathon #3 – October 2021

Author photos of Monique Quintana, Joseph Rios, and Brian Turner.

Marathon #3

October 1-31, 2021

Featuring Monique Quintana, Joseph Rios, and Brian Turner.

Visit the Fresno State crowdfunding website to support our authors: crowdfunding.fresnostate.edu

Monique Quintana

October 2-16, 2021

MFA Creative Writing, Fresno State; B.A. English Literature, Fresno State

Monique is the author of the novella Cenote City (Clash Books, 2019) and the chapbook My Favorite Sancho and Other Fairy Tales (Sword and Kettle Press, 2021). Her work has appeared in Pank, Wildness, Winter Tangerine, The Acentos Review, and other publications. Her work has also been anthologized in projects such as Remapping Wonderland: Fairytales Retold by People of Color (Alternating Current Press, 2020), Grafitti (Aunt Lute Press, 2020), and Latinx Screams (Burial Day, 2020). You can find her book reviews and artist interviews at Luna Luna Magazine as a contributing editor. Her writing has been supported by Yaddo, the Sundress Academy for the Arts, the Community of Writers workshop, and the Open Mouth Poetry Retreat. She was Amplify’s Inaugural Writer of Color Fellowship winner and has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Fresno’s Tower District.

Author website

Joseph Rios

October 9-23, 2021

MFA Creative Writing (in progress), Bennington College; B.A. English Literature, University of California, Berkeley

Joseph is the author of Shadowboxing: Poems and Impersonations (Omnidawn), winner of the American Book Award and was named one of the notable Debut Poets by Poets & Writers Magazine for 2017. He is from Fresno’s San Joaquin Valley. He’s been a gardener, a janitor, a packinghouse supervisor, and a handyman. He is a recipient of scholarships from the Community of Writers workshop and CantoMundo. He is a VONA alumnus and a Macondo Fellow. In 2015, he received the John K. Walsh residency fellowship from the University of Notre Dame. He is a graduate of Fresno City College and the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently attending the low-residency MFA program at Bennington College. He lives in Fresno.

Author website

Brian Turner

October 16-30, 2021

MFA Creative Writing, University of Oregon; B.A. English, Fresno State

Brian is the author of two collections of poetry: Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise. His memoir My Life as a Foreign Country was published in 2014. He’s the editor of The Kiss, and co-edited The Strangest of Theatres. Turner served in the US Army as an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq (2003-2004) and he deployed to Bosnia prior to that. His poetry and essays have been published in The New York Times, The Guardian, National Geographic, Harper’sand other fine journals. Turner was featured in the documentary film Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, which was nominated for an Academy Award. He is a Guggenheim Fellow, and he’s received a USA Hillcrest Fellowship in Literature, an NEA Literature Fellowship in Poetry, the Amy Lowell Traveling Fellowship, a US-Japan Friendship Commission Fellowship, the Poets’ Prize, and a Fellowship from the Lannan Foundation. He directs the MFA program at Sierra Nevada University and lives in Orlando, Florida.

Author website

Brian Turner – The Field at Night

Brian Turner

It’s been an honor to write these poems over the last 15 days—all in service to the Larry Levis Scholarship fund at Fresno State. It’s an honor, too, to write alongside Fresno poets Monique Quintana and Joseph Rios. Thank you to all who have been able to pitch in and donate to this phenomenal cause. In community, we are creating a life-changing possibility for writers in the future, writers who will house experience in language, stanza by stanza, in ways we have never experienced before. I look forward to their verses in years to come. And all of that will be made possible by you. By each of us pitching in what we can so that the world might shine a bit brighter than it already does. Thank you for that. 

I woke up and made some coffee this morning, then took my dog out for a walk. As I set out to write this last installment for the Fresno 15, I wanted to include a shout-out to my mentor and friend, poet Corrinne Clegg Hales. Connie, as she’s known, has been (since I was about 20) a life-long influence. Everything I write is in some way written with the hope that she might read it, that she might nod to herself and think—that’s it, that’s it right there. I am in imperfect vessel for the wisdom and knowledge she has shared with me, but with each poem I write I hope to make her proud. I’ve lifted a short phrase (‘…the dense, pressed asphalt…’) from her amazing poem, “1967, Girl and Snow.” As always, Connie’s work and presence in this world helps me find my own.

The Field at Night

The field has turned to silence in the hours after the game, the grass slowly unfurling itself after embracing the weight of a player in motion, or perhaps something much heavier, the weight of the moment itself, when the center fielder dove parallel to the earth and was suspended for a brief instant before landing in the grass with the ball caught just in the webbing, that last out of the game, that’s what the grass has been gently lifting back into the air once more, where midnight leans its shadows toward dawn, the stadium lights turned off at the breakers, the bleachers empty and picked clean by the hunger of birds, then swept and cleaned again by bored attendants listening to music only they could hear, the parking lot emptied of the last car as the dense, pressed asphalt resumes its pooling meditation on ink, and the last birds have gone off to roost with their heads tucked into a wing, the crowd itself having driven home, the window blinds of their houses pulled down, lamps switched off, some of them having drunk themselves into a stupor approximating sleep, while others, restless, sweating feverish in their beds, carry some measure of history in their bodies as they dream, while most fall into the deep silence of the body itself, there in the dreamless gulf of sleep, falling deeper into themselves hour by hour while a few, only a very few, make love, late, the sheets crumpling at the edge of the bed like clouds furling high in the atmosphere above, the bodies of these lovers glowing with what they discover in one another.

In the stadium, here at the edge of the modern world, the infield grass gathers its dew as the tiniest drops of moisture begin to form at the tip of each blade, small translucent globes that shimmer with moonlight inside of them, and if one were to lean in close, kneeling as if in a sacred place, with knees forming hollows into the soft wet ground, the palm of each hand flattened on the cool turf, whisper close, it might appear as if tiny apparitions moved there, weightless, suspended within a medium of water, where infielders lean forward as the pitcher winds up in the stretch, these tiny ghosts who need only moonlight in a world given a breath-held hush, who need only to be granted enough light to see by, and here they are, returning, the grass at their feet, their cleats digging in, the game in motion once more.

And how could it be any other way? Time reels itself forward and back. This is something the game knows well. Because baseball is a game played by the living and by the dead. We hear it in the breeze carried over the corn in Dyersville, or as it trembles through the walnut trees in Visalia. When we sit in the stands and watch the game together, we are made young again, we are reminded of the passage of years, our bodies gathering the decades as the past whispers to us, and through us, even if we can’t quite hear it, history calls out on our tongues just as it calls out over the treetops and the rooftops of the world, where the wind carries the last echoes of the crowd on its feet. How could it be any other way? It’s why we invented the game to begin with—so that we might live, here, right here, in the great stadium of memory. 

Brian Turner – Revising Autumn

Brian Turner

Today’s poem begins with its title borrowed from a line in “Decrescendo” by Larry Levis (from Winter Stars) and swerves at one point for a cameo by Phil Levine. I gesture here to things he’d said both in a workshop I took with him and, of course, in interviews he did. He received some blowback from folks in Fresno for it at the time, too, which is sad to hear because his thoughts on failure and Fresno and its writers—he was offering his clear-eyed praise. 

I hope, as ever, that this poem proves worthy of your time.

Revising Autumn

I’m going to say a thing that some don’t want to hear. 
     And then another that others will balk at. And still 
          another, followed by the undeniably true.
Ichiro is the greatest hitter to have ever stepped into the box, 
          with four thousand three hundred and sixty-seven hits
     spread out over twenty-eight professional seasons. 
Yeah, sure, Pete Rose gathered more walks, but
     he also stood at the plate five hundred more at bats,
          and his own charge that no one should count
the nine seasons Ichiro played pro ball in Japan brings us
     face-to-face with vanity, pride, hubris, at best, though
          if we search further, prejudice, nationalism, racism. 
I’ve sat in the Tokyo Dome, home of the Yomiuri Giants, 
     and I’ve watched foreign players strike out, watched them 
          return to the dugout same as any in New York or Boston 
or even Cincinnati. Groundouts, flyouts, popups caught
     in foul territory. The same. What’s uncomfortable, 
what we don’t want to deal with outside of the diamond
     is failure. The thing Ichiro is a master of. The kind of failure 
          Philip Levine recognized and praised in the writers 
from Fresno, where I come from, the San Joaquin Valley, the way 
     we live with failure. Our lives steeped in its expectations. 
          And how we learn from it. Our resolve in the face of it.
Of the thirteen thousand five hundred and fifty-three times
          Ichiro stepped to the plate, the game set him back down
     eight thousand one hundred and fifty-five times. Imagine that.

If there’s one thing the game has taught me, and if there’s 
     one thing I’ve learned from Ichiro—
          it’s that our relationship to the process of failure
     widens our understanding of the probable, the possible, 
          that strange and delicate landscape of the profound.

Brian Turner – Clutch

Brian Turner

Today’s poem (“Clutch”) is the only one that’s out of order (and not written ‘today’). I hope you don’t feel cheated! I’m still in the marathon, only I knew in advance that I needed to interview memoirist Jerad Alexander for the Miami Book Fair (with a conversation about his wonderful new book, Volunteers, due out November 9th). In anticipation of that, I wrote “Clutch” the same day I wrote “Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud.” In fact, in this video one can see that the baseball rubbing mud shows up here, but then I took it out. I realized it was weighing the meditation down and that there were two poems vying for space within one poem—so I pulled those lines out and tried to remain focused on what was happening inside the landscape you’ll see in the poem below. 

One quick note on the photograph. I know that I’ve marked anapests where there are no anapests—but that’s how I think of it in reading it, those ‘ins’ almost italicized, given stress, leaning into the idea of inside/within, within prayer, inside of it, as if in prayer…

Clutch

                     The splitter is part of the fastball genre—David Cone

Baseball has a way of illuminating us.

The nine-hole hitter steps up to the plate, the game
in the balance, tied at two apiece, something

special about to happen. Everything

hushed around this moment. He has struck out
all night, and maybe most of his life, but tonight,

on this one pitch, a splitter choked-up deep

in the webbing between the index and middle
fingers of the pitcher’s dominant hand,

the thumb anchored below, that cowhide stretched 

and tanned with aluminum salts, the ball,
yes, it’s true, stitched by hand at a Rawlings plant

in Turrialba, Costa Rica, where

190 workers lost their jobs
last year, though the plant remains open, that ball

spins midair on its way toward home, the seams

barely moving as the ball appears to float—
as if in slow motion, as if pausing

to appreciate the sublime when it appears.

If we could pause a moment to ask him—why
this game designed to induce failure, why play

a sport that humbles us with each at bat?

And, of course, the answer is here, in this moment,
the count one ball, two strikes, the bat tracing

an invisible arc on a geometric plane

which this ball has traveled so very far to meet. 
And when it launches into the night sky, deep

and sweet and blue-black and god-damn beautiful,

the crowd becomes a sound that’s all but gone, 
because his body thrums with voices that sing

from a country across the water, green mountains

away, voices in his mother tongue, loved ones
he hears as he rounds the diamond, those voices

singing, a kind of prayer, a kind of prayer.

Brian Turner – Leon Day

Brian Turner

I set out to write a poem about a phenomenal player and human being named Bullet Rogan (Charles Wilber Rogan, also known as Bullet Rogan or Bullet Joe; 1893-1967). He was a two-way star, along the lines of the present-day superstar Shohei Otani of the Angels—only Rogan hit cleanup even on the days when he was pitching. 

As I tried to discover the doorway into the poem, I found that my mind was wandering. I also had a couple of interruptions that threw me off. Errands I found I suddenly had to run. Each time I returned to research and ponder, I was pulled in new directions. The way it is. Over the years I’ve learned not to force a poem. I recognized what was happening and tried to relax and let go. To let the mind wander as it will. 


This is when I did a search for “baseball game WWII Europe.” This brought me to a few amazing write-ups and articles on a ‘World Series’ held in 1945 in Europe with teams fielded from the service members there. It took place the day after Japan officially signed the surrender documents to end WWII. 


The eMuseum for The Negro Leagues Museum is an incredible resource for lovers of the game, and it helped me with the poem.


Another excellent resource is Robert Weintraub’s The Victory Season: The End of WWII and the Birth of Baseball’s Golden Age (Little, Brown and Company, 2013). A quick primer on the game, adapted from the book, was done for Slate, here.


In researching Rogan, I learned that Jackie Robinson had been court-martialed while serving as an Army officer for refusing to sit in the back of a bus during WWII. I assume this is widely known, but I’d somehow never heard about it before. 


I think that leads to the ending of this poem, or helped to inform the ending that this poem lands on. 


In any case, I hope you enjoy the poem and that you find yourself wandering, too, through the terrific eMuseum hosted by The Negro Leagues Museum.

Leon Day

In Nuremberg, 1945, at the Stadion der Hitlerjugend, 50,000 troops
          filled the bleachers for a best-of-five World Series. It was Sept. 3rd,
and the second world war officially over. General Patton’s 3rd Army
          fielded a team stocked with major leaguers from the Cardinals
and Reds, while the underdogs, mostly semi-pro ballplayers drafted 
          into combat, along with the first black man to hit a home run
in the American League, Willard “Home Run” Brown, and a pitcher, 
          Leon Day. He’d survived the landing at Utah Beach, German
Luftwaffe strafing his position days later as he drove a freight of ammo
          in an amphibious vehicle. And while the sound of small arms fire
would remain with him for the rest of his days, for a brief moment 
          on a sunny afternoon in human history, the war disappeared
around him, replaced by the smell of beer and peanuts in the stands, 
          the laughter and taunts of the crowd fading into a general blur
of noise, something like the waves of the ocean when they break
          into spray and foam along a seawall. And Day, reaching back
with all that he’d learned playing against the Kansas City Monarchs 
          and teams in the Venezuela League, games played for Veracruz
and the Mexico City Reds of the Mexican League, winters in Cuba, 
          the Silver Moons, the Brooklyn Eagles, the Winnipeg Buffaloes—
this is what he threw over the crushed red brick of the infield that day, 
          his signature heater that Patton’s boys just couldn’t catch up to, 
a curveball that buckled their knees, their line-up managing only 4 singles 
          as Leon won the game 2-1, and after the fifth and final game, 
Leon and Willard and the rest of the winning team returned to their base
          in France, where the streets welcomed them all with a parade, 
prime cuts of steak, bottles of chilled champagne on ice.

Brain Turner – The Care Unit Softball Team

Brian Turner

The Care Unit Softball Team

Before we could head over to the park to take infield,
gloving the ball on the short hop and flipping to second
to turn two, and before we each took turns in the cage
with our beat-up foam-insulated helmets muting the world,
we’d sit in a circle of folding chairs to drink lukewarm coffee 
under fluorescent lights as smoke drifted around the room 
with nowhere to go. Al-Anon. Alateen. Alcoholics Anonymous.
Crop dusters sprayed sulfur over the vineyards beyond the hospital, 
with contrails of pesticide fading away as if whispering secrets
into the earth. I read once that grapes were treated with sulfur
in Persia, 2,000 years ago, that gladiators applied it to their wounds.
And I told no one this, but I was beginning to believe that this life
depends on the study of pain, and the management of pain.

The meetings repeated themselves week after week, one month 
to another, with someone clearing their throat before reciting 
their name aloud, another crying as the rest of us stared 
into our empty hands, or into the empty hands of those 
seated around us. Their voices gone flat with the telling. 
The rest of us floating in ovals of coffee, framed
by Styrofoam. When it was my turn, I didn’t tell the story 
of the drive to baseball practice, that summer years before,
near dusk, two six-packs in, his eyelids too heavy 
as he tried to focus on the rolling hills of Madera County, 
twenty minutes from town, a landscape of dead grass 
as far as the eye could see. How quietly tragic it was.
And I didn’t share how he implored me to sing, 
the windows down and the July heat pouring over us, 
his hands gripping the wheel, his head tipping over
as if everything that had happened in his life now
gathered at the front of his mind, the weight of it
too much to lift up anymore, his hair turned silver
decades too soon, and how I sang that day
with my horrible broken little voice, a 12-year-old
who was afraid to speak, a boy who stammered
with words jumbled in his mouth, but still, I sang
as loud as I could, there in my baseball uniform singing
the only words I remembered from my favorite song—
                 Slip sliding away, Slip sliding away
                 You know the nearer destination more
                 You’re slip sliding away

And if this were simply a poem, I might end it there—
in that hollow of the road where the sorrow is, even now,
the two of us driving with my sad little voice trailing
from the open window and vanishing in the summer air.
But this is the real world, and as much as he thought
baseball a useless sport, lacking anything that might
stir the intellect, he loved me, even if he didn’t understand me,
and I think that’s part of the reason he quit drinking, why
he seemed to wake up to himself after more than a decade
of spinning himself into that void we all carry within.
In the next few years, he taught himself Flamenco
and earned his black belt and took up skydiving and 
learned how to type and became fluent in Spanish 
and he studied Vietnamese and French and Thai
and Swahili and Arabic and Khmer and Russian
and, my god, that blurry haze in his eyes was gone, 
and he was sober and he was himself for the rest of his days.