Brian Turner – Fear

Brian Turner

Fear

                I swing big, with everything I’ve got. I hit big or I miss big.
                I like to live as big as I can.  —Babe Ruth

Let me tell you—an inside pitch can change your life.
     Just ask any hitter with a shattered
jawbone, busted kneecap, or broken knuckles.
     It’s been like this throughout the game.
A hundred years ago, with Ray Chapman in the box,
     the submariner for the Yankees, Carl Mays
rocked back, coiling into himself like tempered
     steel, then seemed to scrape the stitched globe  
of the ball across the grit of the mound as he threw, 
     the way my brother and I skipped stones
over the moonlit surface of Hensley Lake, or
     out on the gravel driveway at home, that way
we pitched flattened stones with a twist so they rose
     in curving arcs that buckled each other’s knees
and sent us stumbling back cursing as each stone
     whizzed past. It was a practice in the fundamentals
of fear. Something I never mastered. Not even close.
     But my little brother, he thrived on it, the years 
breaking his teeth, breaking his nose, breaking bones, 
     the batter’s box become the whole world, the way
he punched a CHP officer in a dirt lot off the highway
     in Buena Park, the way two men cracked his kneecaps
with a baseball bat in San Jose and he laughed about it
     afterward, saying What else you gonna do? That all you got? 
as if this life were a series of unrelenting pugilistic moments,
     with baseball elevating it all to an artform, a combination
of speed and power and grace, something he was good at, 
     good enough to one day play in the minors, maybe,
he was that good, but he was better at taking drugs, and still is,
     numbing the pain, I think, separating himself from his body
until the fog rolls deep in the San Joaquin Valley, erasing everything.
     
And I don’t know what to make of it all. I can’t seem to get the image 
     out of my head—as I’m reminded of it with every game I watch. 
Maybe it’s the same for you. You ever notice how they switch
     the ball—anytime it hits the dirt—to replace a scuffed ball
with a new one? That’s because of what happened to Ray Chapman
     at the Polo Grounds on August 17th, 1920, bottom of the 5th,
when Mays shook off the sign, then reached down almost as if
     dunking that ball into the midnight waters of Hensley Lake, 
the same lake where I would one day pour the ashes
     of my best friend after a year-long battle with cancer, 
the same waters we’d all fished as kids, lifting the cold bodies
     of catfish and bass from the water, slick and silver, their mouths
gasping a secret about death in our hands, same as the pitch rising
     from the shadows of the mound to stun the batter, Chapman, 
and everybody there, the sound of it like the crack of a bat, 
     and Chapman, bleeding from his ear, still trying 
to make his way to first—that’s what I think of every time
     the catcher hands the ball to the umpire, a new ball
brought into the game. I’m thinking of Chapman dying, 
     the only player to have been killed by the game, though
I know that’s not true. Because I’m thinking of my brother 
     in that burnt summer field, the officers gathered round
to beat him down, the men in San Jose swinging aluminum
     in the darkness, the way he never steps out of the box, 
the way he always leans in, the way he cocks his head, 
     waiting for it, waiting for the hardest pitch I can throw
from childhood, where we studied it, where we learned it all. 

Joseph Rios – Fresno Ars Poetica

Joseph Rios

Fresno Ars Poetica

I see a clown juggling rings on H 
and Divisadero and there’s enough time 
at the red light for me to see him switch 
to bowling pins. We are outside Julia’s 
where my grandpa used to drink burnt coffee 
and eat slabs of ham shaped like the can. 
The clown is only wearing the nose and gets 
his props from a late nineties lowered Honda.
Nothing about this scene feels normal and 
it’s still the most Fresno thing I’ve seen all year. 
I lower the window to hear the boombox 
playing Zapp and Roger’s Computer Love
Of course he’s playing that song. I can smell 
the smoldering tortilla factory off of Belmont. 
It’s like a few thousand people turned away 
from the stove too long and everybody’s 
breakfast went up in smoke. We got the same
radio station on. The Lincoln does too. 
At every stop light there’s another clown,
another car bumping Zapp and Roger
and it seems like nobody can escape the smoke. 

Brian Turner – Night Game with Folklore

Brian Turner

Night Game with Folklore

The last place team has taken to the field
with the stadium only partially filled—
the lowest attendance in living memory. 
This is a double A ballclub, and at this point
in the season, deep into the humid month
of August, the conversation among players
shifts to the offseason, winter ball in Florida,
heading home to Colombia or Missouri, if
they might hang up their cleats by December.

But in the wetlands beyond the left field fence,
and in the oaks bearded by Spanish moss
still further into the darkness, millions of tiny flyers
lift off, some with wings dusted by pollen, some
driven by a hunger that’s nearly blinding, others
so small and fragile, with wings made of translucent
panes, and all of them flying toward the metal halide 
floodlights, toward that great plume of carbon dioxide
exhaled by the crowd as it cheers the sound of the bat
breaking the night open, the ball altered on its course
and rising into the field of stars gone dim above.

The infielders crane their heads back, waving their arms
to call for the ball, but the ball just keeps going—upward
and out of sight, the players below with their mouths opened 
to the night, their voices lost inside of themselves, deep
within the cavern of the body, where their questions will go 
unanswered, the ball still in fair territory, the players 
and the crowd searching for it with a singular focus, 
the way tiny flyers gravitate to the lights, 100 lumens 
per watt, and hypnotic, the heat of it on approach
killing them by the thousands, by the tens of thousands.

Joseph Rios – Driving to Fowler Ace Hardware

Joseph Rios

Driving to Fowler Ace Hardware

The half a can of beer in the holder
has gone warm from neglect.

The south bound golden state highway is the same
hot black tar it was when my grandfather drove it.

The oleander bushes sleep on old mattresses
sometimes lit on fire and left to burn.

The grape vines do nothing but watch
as the flames expose the mattresses’ wired skeletons.

Golddiggers, the strip joint, looks like a dusty
half burnt log with its black boarded windows.

I wave to that place like an old memory. There is smoke
over the propane plant. Shit, everything is on fire.

Even my memories are aflame, my grandfather’s too.
I’m fanning them, nursing them, like the last swig of this beer.

Brian Turner – The Unwritten Code

Brian Turner

The Unwritten Code

At the end of the corridor, where concrete gives way
to the grassy expanse of playground, the afternoon 

pours in harsh and flat, and I’m eleven again, I’m always 
eleven when I return to this moment, rendered speechless

once more as I discover the school bully, a 6th grader, 
whose fists I once witnessed as they rose and fell

into my best friend’s face, which swelled and bled
as he stared wide-eyed into the horror of it, unmoving,

just as bewildered as the rest of us, the same way
I stand with a hall pass in hand now, while Yolanda spins

that bully in circles, her egg-shaped body easy to recognize 
in silhouette, already adult-sized and growing, her hands  

deep in the dome of his hair, locked in, pulling so hard 
he runs as if chasing his own head, the only sound

the soles of his shoes slapping at the concrete until Yolanda
drives his head into the porcelain faucet bolted to the wall.

 *

It’s something like this when we’re sitting in the bleachers. 
Drinking from wax paper cups. Telling each other stories

from way back when. And then that sound. That quick intake
of breath, as 30,000 or more in attendance stop mid-sentence, 

heads on a swivel, eyes locked in as the batter spins, falls, and yes,
there will be fines, of course, suspensions maybe, ejections

from the game, sure, that’s a given, as relief pitchers sprint in
from the outfield grass—because the rules of the game have fallen away,

and the unwritten code demands a response—someone must be drilled
with the ball, and that will bring Rodriguez or Ventura or Arenado

out of the box, helmet off and swinging wildly in the air, the announcer
saying, “Oh, a takedown by Farnsworth, and a couple of haymakers landed,”

and this is how the game is played, this is how we’re taught to play it, 
though it’s never made sense to me, even when I stood at 3rd, the relay

cut off, no play at the bag, my glove on my thigh as the runner
slid cleats up into me to knock me off my feet, the benches clearing,

all of us in the adult league playing on a hardpan infield in Fresno,
at Roosevelt H.S., off Huntington, my leg bleeding through the uniform.

And I’ve often wondered over the years—what was it
that made him so outright mean, sliding over the bag to send me

airborne, the world upended, the bottom of the inning split open in anger?
I think it must have been boredom. That’s something I can understand. 

That emptiness that just weighs the air down heavy sometimes, 
the ice chests filled with cans of beer just not enough, their bored 

girlfriends fanning themselves in the shade, their bored pit bulls  
panting in the dirt. Same as it ever was. That boredom. That need

to somehow feel alive, to somehow make the moment mean something.
Or maybe it’s shame. Some deep embarrassment that leads us

to inflict pain, pointless and cruel, from way back. That kind of shame.
Maybe that’s what makes it happen. Maybe that’s why.