Henry Aaron, April 8, 1974

The great notched wheel of mountain stone
Has groaned awake again.
Turned by a pinion, the mating teeth of the
Ancient machinery will soon plumb the next depth.
The crystal planes of the colliding surfaces,
Unworked by ocean waves or the flow of rivers,
Will grind and mill against one another and
Blot out the old sun with a rising cloud of rock flour.

Year by year, thunder by thunder,
Furnace fire by furnace fire
This ancestry of determined hands
Built it, turned it, made it do its work.

All those years ago in Down the Bay and Toulminville
He hit bottle caps with broom handles,
Which steered him to bat cross-handed,
Left on top of right,
The way he wasn’t supposed to.
They trained it out of him at Eau Claire,
But you can still see the remnants in
The way his bat dives and then levels out,
As though it has fallen off the dinner table
He never should have put it on in the first place and
Rolled across the floorboards (You’ll wake the baby),
As though he had been training himself to
Turn the gears of a siege engine.

Those wrists, still snakebite quick after 40 years,
Repulse the pitch from Downing, just above the belt
The ball makes for the north, spans the dirt, and then
The grass, and then the fenceline in left.
We think it settles into someone’s glove
In the bullpen and turn our eyes back to him.
So we don’t see the ball
Bend up at the last instant
And keep going out of the stadium.

Yonder beyond the plate his mother,
Arms knotted around his neck,
Kneaded out of him what she could.

Not the cotton he picked,
Or the three dollars a game for the Black Bears,
Or the colleges he didn’t go to,
Or the twin son he buried,
Or the contracts shoved at him across walnut desks,
By men more respected than respectable,
Who mistook his silence for assent
And did not know
His lungs were the bellows.

But maybe the letters scrawled by dire devils
And the 16-ton baseball he had just hit
Over the parking lots and then Fulton Street
And then Interstate 20 and its blueprinted sundering
And then the scarlet lines on old mortgage maps
And then Sweet Auburn. 

It crossed great rivers, arced over their waters, and then
Rose over all the things forged in plunder –
The steel girder bridges, town-square monuments,
Concertina wire edging the untold prisons –
Until far away it struck with the force of a thrown Bible
And turned again
The great wheel of mountain stone.

(Image by Courtney McGough, via Creative Commons)

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