Poetry For Sports Fans
on B.H. Fairchild, sandlot baseball in Oklahoma, and an apparition of genius
Lately, I have been trying not to live inside of an echo chamber, which means that this year I am aware that April is not just National Poetry month, but also the month when a thing called “opening day” happens in Major League Baseball. It gives me a tidy segue to write about “Body and Soul” by B.H. Fairchild, a baseball poem I fell in love with back when I was teaching English for the way it could hook even the most poetry-resistant student and for the truth that it packaged into a ripping good story.
(I’ll just note here that this poem has a big reveal at the end, so if you don’t like spoilers, scroll all the way down and read the poem first.)
We start around a kitchen table with men who are “guzzling bourbon and Coke from coffee mugs” and “nuzzling/the facts but mauling the truth,” as they reminisce about a sandlot baseball game from back in the day in Commerce, Oklahoma. They are men who “worked together in zinc mines or on oil rigs, /sweat and khaki and long beers after work,” and the poem quickly captures the easy cadence and vernacular of their speech.
So it all begins, the men loosening up,
joking about the fat catcher’s sex life, it’s so bad
last night he had to hump his wife, that sort of thing,
pairing off into little games of catch that heat up into
throwing matches, the smack of the fungo bat, lazy jogging
into right field, big smiles and arcs of tobacco juice,
and the talk that gives a cool, easy feeling to the air
The scene is set: a piece of vintage Americana that illustrates the challenges of working-class life in the 1950s and the simple pleasures of a town baseball game.
Of course there’s more, though—this is a poem, not a country western song.