Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Sweet Sixteen: Part One

Sixteen years ago today my friend Leanne and I had repaired to her apartment in a vain attempt to relax. But our bodies, flooded with the adrenaline they would have needed had we been less lucky, wouldn't let us. So we decided to take things in the opposite direction, devoting ourselves to projects that would keep us busy until dawn. In my case, that meant alternating readings from the Book of Daniel for John Anson's 107 "Bible as Literature" course with my attempt to compose a poem about baseball in San Francisco Giant Will Clark's honor. It was an ambitious undertaking. But even though I was mixing natural and artificial fuels, I don't regret the work I did. The poem is overwritten and underedited, yet sincere and the product of much self-analysis:
In the Clutch

The man I imagined myself becoming
holds his bat loosely
like I used to:
feeling the cool wood
each time it
falls out of momentary poise
left or right
and crashes softly
into the rise above his palms.

His language robs him
of the hands that describe him best,
straitening his greatness into mean.
It worms its way into the mouth of praise, saying:

"He comes through in the clutch."

An inefficacy of idiom:
I picture someone strangling
like lesser players do a bat handle.

Insecurity clenches its hands like teeth,
fingers whitening at the bone --
a losing struggle for control.

These are the hands we know:
a god who smites, jealous in his ever-slackening grip;
a moral, bent
icily on a
letting things get out of hand;
a man on a stage, acting out the immutability
of the blood-drained,
so not to seem one
losing his grip;
a woman pinned down like a beetle,
frantically hard-shelled
under the thumb of convention.

These are not his hands;
language slips them over his fingers
like cheap rubber gloves;
two clammy masks for the palms,
the knuckles,
the tips,
cover up his deftness.
All he's allowed is the brutal act of gripping.

For him, though, grip is never act
but process --
a languid continuum
of catching,
a pendulum before the swing,

a discipline so smooth he needs no ball.

His hands know.

I picture them learning:

moving slowly through his woods after a storm,
beading and pooling the canopy's leafy drip;
mastering the art of not touching one another
and then succumbing,
the light between the two hands' converging
suddenly closed by some irresistible force;

but mostly just
spiny rocks,
pebbles so small you can't keep them for more
than an hour,
and the most delicate of birds' eggs,
the thin-shelled, limpid blue of fragile,
safe in hands training themselves
for cupping.

Hands secure in the knowledge
that take is measured more in touch than hold.
The scans are from my first copy of the finished poem, written around 5am on October 18th, 1989. That matters a lot to me. Even though it is with mixed emotions that I recall the state I was in while laboriously whiting out mistakes in my work, it's important to see, touch, and smell the original artifact. You, of course, can only see it. But know this: I just inhaled deeply and my body remembered both things it would rather forget and things it is thrilled to remember. For what it's worth, here is my entry from 2003 belatedly commemorating the anniversary of the Loma Prieta Quake as well as a follow-up entry from the same time and also a link to Steven's earthquake story. I love contemplating why and how people retell the same stories over and over, but with a difference.

[This is the first of three interconnected entries. Go here for the second one and here for the third one.]

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.