Poet's Choice: "Rules of Contact" by Jill Bialosky

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By Jill Bialosky
Sunday, October 18, 2009

There is a poetic synchronicity to the game of baseball, to the rhythms on the field and a lolling trance the observer falls under, as the pitcher lobs the ball to the batter, the batter fires one into the field, the fielder catches the ball and blasts it to first. Perhaps that is why the game has inspired many poets. In "The Crowd at the Ball Game," William Carlos Williams describes the onlookers as being "moved uniformly/by a spirit of uselessness/which delights them." Marianne Moore in "Baseball and Writing" proffers "baseball is like writing./You can never tell with either/how it will go."

For the last four years my 14-year-old son has been infatuated with the art of baseball. He has played on a baseball travel team, and I have spent many a humid summer afternoon or wind-swept evening watching his games in baseball fields across the five boroughs of Manhattan, in Westchester and the suburbs of New Jersey. No matter where the game is played, whether underneath a bridge in the Bronx or next to a Con Ed field in downtown Manhattan or in the sprawling suburbs of Westchester, the rules of the game remain the same. But it is the secret language between fathers and sons, players and coaches, teammates and rivals, mothers chatting with one another in the bleachers that has enchanted me and inspired this poem.

(Editor's note: To see this poem laid out correctly on paper or on your screen, click the Print button in the Toolbox.)

Rules of Contact

A Ball is cracked into the air and the underlings

In their red caps field it. A line drive; another

to the boy at third. Get under it. Don't be afraid.

.

Let's hear some chatter. It's late in the day.

Have you noticed that everyone is separating?

.

A mother from the bleachers remarks, knitting

her anxiety into careful knots. Where are the sparrows?


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