Dreaming for Pablo Neruda, Big League Shortstop
Not bad at the plate, not bat in the field,
19 year-old rookie shortstop Pablo Neruda
hit .296 for the '23 Yanks.
According to Ruth,
according to others who saw the kid play,
it could have been .340 or better,
but Neruda insisted upon taking
until pitchers threw a strike.
Mantle talked to the kid,
but learned that recent discoveries
about string theory are meaningless
for those who want to talk to anyone
about anything in any dimension
prior to their own actual birth--
even if they do really exist
in some parallel universe
here at the ballpark.
Neruda sneered at the sound
of Mantle's disembodied voice.
Pablo fetched a handful
of red dirt from just outside the batter's box,
squeezed it into a small clod,
tossed it into the air,
observed tiny blades of grass
as they were swept away gently
by a breeze, and then slowed into descent
as gravity imposed its silent, reliable summons.
As the last few blades landed, he replied
in these exact words (but in Spanish, of course):
Listen, Miguel. I don't mess
with your punctuation.
Don't tell me how to see
the graceful but fleeting blur
of red seams
as the spinning sphere swiftly streaks
from the mound and disappears,
a dangerous hiss and thwap
into the supple padded leather
of an oily mitt.
Let me tell you something, Miguel.
That fastball is my own name,
an autograph sketched in water.
I stole that line from myself.
You be number 7.
I'll be number 29.
You hit your way.
I'll hit mine.
Few, if any Yankees cared much for Neruda,
but in August, a surprising move
transformed the game.
The American League instituted
a designated poet rule.
George dispatched Yankee brass
to locate the best DP--
price didn't matter--
and when they returned,
the list of prospects was short.
Garcia Marquez (Chicago White Sox)
insisted upon sitting alone
at the end of the dugout,
where he wouldn't even talk,
let alone write during the games.
Thoreau, who struck out too much anyway,
was AWOL somewhere in Connecticut,
and Whitman never returned
from an off-season camping trip
to Ohio with someone
named Appleseed or Maple-something.
Another 19 year-old (triple-A Albuquerque)
named Joyce was promising,
but nobody could read his writing,
and, finally, some guy named Cummings
could hit the ball, but would probably
break the major league record for errors.
Many years later,
when Neruda accepted the Nobel Prize,
Mantle attended the ceremony
and said to reporters,
Not bad at the plate, not bad in the field,
Pablo Neruda hit .296 for the '23 Yanks.
We were lucky to have him on the team.