I’m sitting on the floor watching Jackie Robinson die
or watching his funeral,
or he’s stealing home
and he’s dying into home
and I’m trying to look back.
There are people in dashikis and afros.
Everyone is Black in the footage
and there’s a Florsheim Shoe store on the corner.
It’s 1972 because it’s always 1972.
The film is grainy with hundreds of cars and hundreds of people
maybe thousands of people
going home with Robinson,
and it’s 2020
and we’re all home, stuck inside our homes
while everyone else is outside
getting sick and dying. Red Barber said,
The diabetes didn’t kill him.
It was the burden he brokered that ruined his body.
My father said, He played like he wanted to murder the wind,
and my father’s mind is dying,
but he can still remember Robinson stealing home.
I was there for that game, he says, and I half believe him
and half picture him stomping on the plate
when Jackie slid that ballerina slide
and all of Brooklyn jumped on top of his body
with beer and brats and a sign that said Welcome Home
like he’d been in the foxholes at Bastogne
during the European Theater.
But his foxhole was an American home
in the American Theater of racism and hate
where no matter how many home runs were smashed
or line drives pelted, he was still quarantined.
Today, in my American home with my American daughters,
I sat on my rug and watched his funeral procession
and cried so softly I thought I’d swallow my throat.
My children stuck in their Covid home
can’t wait to run into the arms of their friends
and kiss them and hold them
and fall on top of them without worrying
about what microbes might fall into their mouths.
That’s why I call my father to ask,
Did you ever see him play?
Yes, he says, every day,
and the funny thing, Jackie was a Republican,
but at least I’ve got my acrylic paints to keep me from my mind.
And I know his mind is floating around Ocean Parkway
with a stickball bat in his hands, that magic wand;
I know his mind is in Ebbets Field
watching Pee Wee Reese meet Robinson on the top dugout step
with the dirty uniform and the sweaty face
to shake his hand, and in that moment
they’ve arrived, have found that warm place between men
that transcends walls and doors and backyard fences.
That’s what Rachel Robinson must have been talking about
when she said, We always had home, no matter the brutality.
It’s the beauty of baseball—
that it can go on forever no matter the virulence:
there is no clock, there is no time,
there is no finite amount of days.
It is home, an infinite home, one man barreling
into the dust and disease of a broken world
that has since forgotten Florsheim shoes.
One man hurling himself straight ahead,
across the filthy, dirty plate of Ebbets Field
knowing damn well that he’s anything but safe
even as the ump jumps up,
shoots his arms out across his chest,
and sends the whole city of Brooklyn home, delirious,
while tonight my father sits in his living room
squeezing his tubes of paint,
cerulean blue in his left hand,
dove white in his right.
Matthew Lippman’s collection Mesmerizingly Sadly Beautiful won the 2018 Levis Prize and is published by Four Way Books. He has published five other collections of poems including The New Year of Yellow (winner of Kathryn A. Morton Prize, Sarabande Books), Salami Jew, American Chew (winner of Burnside Books Prize), Monkey Bars, and A Little Gut Magic. He is the Editor and Founder of the web-based project Love’s Executive Order.
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