Wednesday 23 September 2015

SAVIN ROCK, 1956 (a poem)

Yogi Berra died yesterday, and while I was revising the obituary I'd written a few years ago for the Guardian's stock files, I thought about this poem. I don't remember when exactly I wrote it; it was part of my master's thesis at McGill, so it was probably in 1975 or 76, in Montreal, but it might have been earlier. It was published with a group of my poems in 1984, in Cid Corman's Origin, Fifth Series issue 3, in Kyoto. Cid was a real baseball fan; for years we exchanged post cards and aerogrammes (remember them?) between London and Japan, discussing poetry, baseball, Charles Olson and sumo wrestling. Cid died on my birthday in 2004; I got to write his obituary for the Guardian, you can link to that here.

This poem was also published in a baseball-themed literary magazine, Spitball, in 1987, and in my collection By The Sound (Torque Press, Southampton) the following year.

Savin Rock was an amusement and resort area along the shore in West Haven, Connecticut, where my parents grew up. It had been big at the turn of the century, right through the depression. My great grandfather had a hot dog stand and pizzeria there; my grandfather, his son in law, at one point was partners in an auction house where my father, again, a son in law, worked weekends. I think it's pretty self-explanatory: there were rides, Peter Franke's fun house, penny arcades (in one of which a waxed gypsy lady inside a glass machine issued printed fortunes if you inserted a nickel), a huge wooden roller coaster, bumper cars, the Wild Mouse, and the remnants of Donovan Field, where the West Haven Sailors baseball team played, run by George Weiss who later was the general manager of the Yankees.

Don Larsen's perfect game was pitched in game 5 of the 1956 series; Berra hit a home run in the second game, but two in the deciding game 7, won by the Yankees as Johnny Kucks pitched (and Berra caught) a three-hit shutout. Both those games were at Ebbetts Field but it's probably game seven I am calling up in the poem. In game six Bob Turley pitched 10 innings of four-hit ball and lost 1-0. That's 28 innings in which Yankee pitchers held the Brooklyns to just 7 hits; Berra knew how to pitch to the Dodgers.


Don Larsen was tossing the perfect game.
Berra homered onto Bedford Avenue.
The wax lady cackled in the penny arcade
& scared me, her ignorance of the Series.
I didn't want my fortune told,
I wanted to know who had won.

At grandpa's auction prices always went up,
The marks investing junk with sudden value,
Carried away with the power of their words.
After closing we drove past the hot dogs:
Jimmie's, Turk's, Phyllis's, Jake's.
Jake was your great-grandfather, he told me,
As he always did. He ran away when he was 12
& went out west to be a cowboy.
12 seemed very old. A cowboy named
Rosenthal, my father said, & shook his head.

They talked about cars.
My dad had his eyes on a blue '55 Ford.
I wished he played for the Red Sox.
I would run away north and watch him pitch.
I wished they'd someday win the pennant.
I was five years old. I don't remember now
If I knew then who Don Larsen was.

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