~This poem was first published in The Southern Review (spring 2010)
I am sitting in the shade
watching my son’s baseball game
as the other team’s coach squeals like a monkey,
then yells, I want another banana! to his players
on the field while he stands
atop their empty bench.
They are losing by a lot of runs.
It’s hot as Texas as the sun bakes
the boys’ skin like dough,
as they sweat like pepperoni.
Our attention is, to say the least,
divided. Sucking on lollipops,
we chat about the biology teacher
who disappeared in April. The break-
down rumors. And the punishments the school
doles out like candy at a parade.
By the handful. With apparent glee.
We cheer on cue,
for high heat that gets a batter swinging
and missing, for line drives
snagged, hits in the clutch.
For my son’s teammate who steals home.
Cigarettes and popcorn smoke the Sunday
air like ham, while the other team’s
second coach walks back and forth in his dugout,
which isn’t dug out at all,
flashing his tattoos on each calf:
on the left, coins and cards—
ace, king, queen, jack—
on the right, hogs wallowing in tame cliché.
Between innings, the second base ump comes to the sideline,
his muscle T-shirt baring the sharp fangs
of his tattoos. He kisses his girlfriend as she
flashes her jewel-pierced tongue.
And the story of the missionary from church
comes up like a batter—
the coups in Chile in the ’70s—
how men thrust machine guns
into his chest and yanked him
from his house. How when the general heard him tell
what he believed, the whole gospel story,
he let him walk.
~This poem was first published in Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry & Prose (2009)
In the sky, you see a dark cloud swell
into the shape of Africa, a continent of impending
downpour. Sense taps on your ribs,
a Morse code from your mind to move you
in the right direction. Then memory kicks in,
that hopeless romantic who insists
some encounters happen in ways
you’re old enough to know can’t be true.
But you’re eight again anyway,
and your mother shouts from the house as the thunder
rumbles overhead. You stand like a sycamore,
scabbed and scarred from moments like this,
ignoring your orders in your own backyard, an absence
without leave beneath the spellbinding spray.
And the tribe of silver drops
drums on your tongue as you offer your empty self
like a cup to the Lord of the storm.
Your bare feet disappear
in the fast-forming puddles
while the wind cuts loose
a lithe length of willow. You raise it up,
waving your hands, jumping, circling
the tree, wild with wonder, or worship,
or something you can’t quite name,
something ancient as day and real
as the rain now falling,
rhythmic in its familiar ritual,
on your forty year-old face.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS
“Ancient Ritual” began when, upon driving my daughter home one summer afternoon, she looked out the window at the sky and declared, “That cloud looks like Africa!” That simile became for me what Cathy Smith Bowers calls “an abiding image.” I began to work on the poem, but initial drafts were too long and unwieldy. When I showed one of those early versions to a friend of mine, she suggested that I divide the one poem into two separate poems, which I did (the other poem became “Remember Blessing,” which later appeared in the Atlanta Review). “Ancient Ritual” then took off in directions I never anticipated, juxtaposing memory with aging, the Romanticism that glosses childhood experience with the Realism that dictates so much of adulthood.
I began writing “Heartland” the evening after the baseball game described in the poem. What I wanted to capture was the way the tactile and the intangible mingled like scents in the air, for that blend is the quintessential Midwestern life—that existence which, so steeped in the quotidian, can be (and has been) misjudged as boring and uneventful. Yet, when one looks closely and experiences the people and things that surround her through all the senses—as I did that Sunday afternoon in Cedarville, Ohio—the Midwestern experience is anything but ordinary. Nothing in “Heartland” is fabricated—everything in the poem occurs as it did that day—the coaches, the game, the conversations, even the tattoos. It was important to me as I worked on the poem to preserve the reality of that game, the anything-but-still life of that afternoon, the ebb and flow of living in such community.
ABOUT JULIE L. MOORE
Julie L. Moore is the author of Slipping Out of Bloom (WordTech Editions) and Election Day (Finishing Line Press). In addition, her manuscript, Scandal of Particularity, was a finalist for the 2011 FutureCycle Press Poetry Book Prize and a semi-finalist for the 2011 Perugia Press Prize. A Best of the Net and two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Moore has won the Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize from Ruminate and received the Rosine Offen Memorial Award from the Free Lunch Arts Alliance. Her poetry has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, American Poetry Journal, Atlanta Review, CALYX, Cimarron Review, Dogwood, The Missouri Review Online, The Southern Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Verse Daily. You can learn more about her work at http://www.julielmoore.com/.