“Campy was the hardest man I ever met,”
Kahn the sportswriter said.
Campy, the guinea-nigger halfbreed,
Kneeling in a Germantown sandlot
With bruised ribs and a ball in his glove.
Campy rising at 1 a.m. to deliver milk
And two blocks worth of papers.
Campy who had three grown men pull up
In a white Caddy convertible,
Pay his momma three times
Daddy’s weekly wage to let him
Catch games on the weekends.
Campy who quit school at 15. Spent ten
Years squatting in the Negro leagues,
Birmingham to Harlem. Spent ten winters
In the Latin Leagues –– Mexico,
Puerto Rico, Venezuela –– making the year
A hard and dusty perpetual summer.
Campy who got the call from Mr. Rickey
To be fourth, join Robinson at Ebbets.
Campy who slept across town
While the rest laughed it up
And danced a block from the stadium.
Campy who got MVP in ’51, ’53 and ’55.
Campy who had mitts so sore he couldn’t
Lift the trophy. Who sat upside-down
In an icy car in a Long Island ditch
Thinking how he couldn’t feel his legs.
Who sat upstairs, looking out the window,
While his wife made love to another man
In the front seat of a Pontiac.
And Campy who grew old remembering
A September afternoon. And that sound.
And how the ball rose steadily
Just inside the third base line
And how he thought,
“Jesus, sweet Lord Jesus, oh it’s good to be alive.”
This poem is about Roy Campanella, who was a catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It has been published several times, including in three anthologies.
An April Funeral in Pennsylvania
In memory of Clarence Rowe
These men only wear suits for two reasons.
No one is getting married today.
Outside, on the stone porch, we stand
Awkward and alone. A few of us smoke
Into the twilight. A woman wipes
Her eyes. A man cleans his glasses.
Inside you stand five feet
From the coffin: Thanks for
Coming. Nice to see you
To folks you might remember.
The Masons leave the room
At ten to nine. They return in white aprons.
Speak of the purity of the lambskin,
Brotherhood. He’s built well and
Will take refreshment in the temple,
One of them tells us as the others
File past, bend low, whisper
A shibboleth in the ear of the corpse.
In the morning, we go to the college.
I buy a book, a pair of shorts.
We linger. Rest against the hood
Of the car. A thin haze obscures
The spring sun and nascent landscape.
In the distance, a farmer plows his field.
The tractor’s steady sputter a reminder.
Pretty girls walk across new grass
As the mist of our voices drifts away
I wrote this poem about twenty years ago, in memory of friend’s father who passed away. It was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The newspaper has the wonderful policy of publishing a poem on its editorial page each Saturday. This poem also appears in my collection You Can See It from Here.