Rizal Stadium, World War II
“During fighting for Rizal Stadium, [Rod] Serling shot
and killed a Japanese soldier on third base.” (from
The National World War II Museum, New Orleans)
He was almost home, poor guy. Or was he
on his way to the dugout, which almost certainly
they did not have, so on his way to the locker
room door, when a kid same age as my father
zapped him. I want to see him crouching to steal
the plate, or rounding the bag. Why don’t I want
to see him scooping up a grounder when he’s
surprised by that bolt-action Springfield?
This poem is not about The Twilight Zone.
In six years of baseball I scored so rarely
that stomping that square into a puff of dust,
dust already behind me, is a dream I’ve had
a thousand times. Brian Hunter ruined my
best chance to steal the big one. But that’s
another story. How many hours did I spend
out there sweeping them up, taking bad hops
in the heart then firing a frozen (yes) frozen
rope to first? That could have been me, if I had
been born way back and in Japan. Yellow Peril—
it has a ring to it. But more likely this RS would
have been the killer, a dark-haired Yank. Get off
my base. What do you know about this game, you
un-American bastard? If I don’t kill you, you
might kill my father who’s right now fighting
for his life on Guadalcanal. I love horror and
time travel. Besides, you tiny terrors want to
take our jungles from us, our battleships and
manifest destiny. Take that, you sneak attachers.
Even if you were born on third, you would never
make it home.
I don’t mean to be flippant. This
is a sports poem. It has no place for “the tension,
the violence, the anguish of protracted war,”
as Serling described it. The grief. The guilt.
My father, an excellent catcher and hitter with
a happy temperament, caught typhoid and typhus
and malaria, but never had what they quaintly
called “battle fatigue.” So he said. Serling did,
had screaming nightmares all his life, but this
is a sports poem. Dad fought heavyweight, Serling
flyweight until a buddy rattled his brains on one or
another Pacific island. Hiking is a sport, but not
in all that gear and combat boots. My father hated
walking to the end of his days. If this were not a
sports piece, I would have room for a found poem.
For example, Serling, introducing Episode 19, speaks of
the faces of the young men who fight,
as if some omniscient painter
had mixed a tube of oils that were
at one time earth brown, dust gray,
blood red, beard black, and fear—yellow white . . .
On Leyte—and you’ll see how this fits—Serling starved
pulling demolition duty, when, thank God, crates
of food fell like manna from the sky, most under
parachutes. His pal Melvin Levy exulted, arms out
like Jesus, till one crate took off his head. Literally.
This might remind you of Machiavelli’s and Pope Leo X’s
spectator delight at peasants gleefully catching barrels
full of living pigs rolled down Monte Testaccio, as I say
in another poem, “like the drunks at Daytona trying
to catch the cars as they roar around the track.”
Crate-catching, we could call Melvin Levy’s sport.
Except that it wasn’t a sport at all or even solemn combat.
It was one of those accidents that happen when young men
gather to do whatever it is they do in their youthful energy
and innocence. Like a hamstring pulled tagging up
after that long, long fly is somehow snagged in center,
but you, at least, manage to limp home.