Forty years ago, with smoke wafting
down our hallway and billowing
under the door and the fire alarm
blaring away, I had to get out fast.
My young wife was at work,
no animals to locate and save,
years away from our child’s birth,
I grabbed what was, at the time,
my most valuable possession—something
I’d held dear since my first year at
the University of Wyoming where I sat
in Richard Howey’s philosophy class,
sharpened my life, progressed it out of
the cave of conformity and complacency.
I grabbed my copy of The Portable Nietzsche
and fled our smoke-choked abode.
Outside, on the sunbleached sidewalk,
while helmeted Denver firemen wrapped
in their heavy rubber coats and boots,
stormed our building, I opened to Zarathustra
and read my favorite aphorism—a beatitude
Freddy wrote to Christians whom, he averred,
always slept well because they got God
to forgive their sins every night before bed:
“Blessed are the sleepy ones,” he wrote,
for they shall soon drop off.”
As it turned out, ours was a silly,
if smokey, dumpster fire, put out easily
by Denver’s best. When my sweet wife
returned from her day’s labor (I was still
struggling to obtain my BA), I told her
of the afternoons’ excitement.
Had I wrapped arms around our wedding album?
she wanted to know. Had I carried it out of
our endangered building that day, rescued
our most cherished memories from the
inchoate flames? Her long dark hair,
moon-cool eyes, and hands whose fingers
moved over me like a Chopin etude,
instantly obliterated twenty years of Catholic
dogma about truth telling as well as my
adherence to Nietzsche’s transvaluation
of all values. Of course, I replied. I ran out
of our endangered home with our memories
held firmly in my hands, kept safe from
flames, hoses, water damage, and enemies:
foreign or domestic.
That night I slept well. Dropped right off.
Charlie Brice is the winner of the 2020 Field Guide Magazine Poetry Contest and is the author of Flashcuts Out of Chaos (2016), Mnemosyne’s Hand (2018), An Accident of Blood (2019), and The Broad Grin of Eternity (forthcoming), all from WordTech Editions. His poetry has been nominated for the Best of Net anthology and twice for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The Atlanta Review, Chiron Review, Plainsongs, I-70 Review, The Sunlight Press, Anti-Heroin Chic, and elsewhere.
At first they were delighted when the Enochville Swallows came from behind and won the game. The team had struggled all season. It felt good to cheer. A decisive victory on the following day was even more surprising.
They finished the season with eleven straight wins. This unexpected turnaround kept everyone talking all winter, basking in the warmth of new heroes. Photos appeared in bars and diners.
The following April, Mayor Davis threw out the first pitch and the Swallows won again! After four more victories, demand for tickets soared and there weren’t enough seats to accommodate the newly-minted fans. That was when the mayor lobbied successfully for eminent domain and the destruction of the nearby Walton apartments. The wrecking ball threw up clouds of dust; the additional grandstand beyond the outfield ensured that everyone could view the action.
How did Jerry Mercer make that incredible flying catch in the ninth? What accounted for Felix Romero’s uncanny curveball in his two consecutive perfect games? Who could explain Bobby Sheets, the light-hitting second baseman, stepping up to the plate and jacking a tie-breaking home run that sailed over the astonished faces in the new grandstand before landing in Walter Schmidt’s vegetable garden and bouncing over his hedge and splashing in Rose Kindley’s birdbath? The ball was brought back to Billy for an autograph and charitably auctioned off at a price to pay the city’s operational budget for schools, police, and fire department. Mayor Davis held a press conference and announced, “We shall abolish all taxes.”
On the Fourth of July, the Swallows were still undefeated, the longest winning streak ever. Families put out blankets on the grass to watch the fireworks show, recalling with incredulous laughter the previous season when Felix Romero had blown a game by walking in a batter with the bases loaded, or when the team had squandered a six-run lead and Bobby Sheets took a called third strike for the final out, whereupon he ducked his eyes amid the boos and slouched dejectedly off the field. A few people, though, claimed that he’d ripped off his helmet in disgust and dashed it to the ground, cursing the umpire. People enjoyed disputing different versions of that debacle.
But this season offered no such controversy: it was unstinting victory, game after game. One night near the end of July, the Swallows fell behind by nine runs in the first three innings, and it appeared the streak would end. Spectators leaned in closer, their throats going dry. The air was sticky, expectant, still.
Then gale winds descended upon Enochville, a thunderstorm with sheets of rain. Lightning struck the scoreboard and the roof of the concession stand got blown off. It was a wash-out.
The next day, skies were blue, the air pure. Wise folks who’d saved their rainchecks redeemed them that afternoon at a make-up contest where, starting afresh, the Swallows won. That evening they went on to take the regularly-scheduled game, to sweep the double-header.
By August, it was easy to spot empty rows in the grandstands. Ticket prices dropped, though the team’s record was still unblemished. In local bars a new fashion emerged for blindfold billiards. Conversations turned to cooking shows and dialectical materialism. Business was generally down as many patrons traveled to watering holes in other towns.
When school resumed in September, local teachers succumbed to pressure from Mayor Davis to organize field trips to the ballpark to watch the undefeated Swallows, whose example offered pupils lessons about life and success. These outings also helped to fill the empty seats. Kids grumbled that the games lasted an eternity, and numerous parents wrote them false notes of excuse in order to relieve them of this burden. People were sick of baseball.
Charles Holdefer is an American writer currently based in Brussels. His work has appeared previously in the Burningword Literary Journal, as well as the New England Review, North American Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. His most recent book is AGITPROP FOR BEDTIME (stories).
Oakland, September 9, 2020
The dark sky surreal
the color of a child’s crayon
the sun uneasy red
five million acres
and there she was
white tail flagging
ghosted by silence
moisture pulled from plants
as temperatures rise
ready to flame
sometimes in the darkness
you can see more clearly
I’m sorry I whispered
Hunger stones as memorials
hunger stones as warnings
of famine of drought of
emaciated animals, failing crops
of too many bodies to bury
Stones embedded into river banks
in 1417, 1616, 1717, 1842, 1892
carved with words or pictures
to alert people that when the stone is
exposed, the river is perilously low
So many hunger stones now visible
our land parched and burning
revealing the truth buried beneath
A toy gun held by a twelve year old boy
I can’t breathe cried eleven times
a stolen box of cigars, a counterfeit
twenty dollar bill, a man asleep in his car
a man selling loose cigarettes
Hunger stones named Eric Garner,
Michael Brown, Tamir Rice,
Walter Scott, Alton Sterling,
Philando Castile, Stephon Clark
Breonna Taylor, George Floyd
Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine
carved on a hunger stone in the Czech Republic
If you see me, weep
Claire Scott is an award winning poet who has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her work has appeared in the Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Enizagam and Healing Muse among others. Claire is the author of Waiting to be Called and Until I Couldn’t. She is the co-author of Unfolding in Light: A Sisters’ Journey in Photography and Poetry.