Uncle Herbert’s Bat Mill
It’s gone now, of course, ceded to blackberry canes
and stinging nettles, the sour scent
of sawdust subsumed by evening primrose
bubbling a doublewide’s new skirt.
The white ash trees, too, begin to hollow out
and soften in the jaws of jeweled beetles,
though the saw’s long sold or lying
vine-snagged in some defunct junkyard.
Who knows what Uncle Herbert heard
in the crack of Mazeroski’s bat that fall,
laid up drunk in the logs clutching his transistor,
dreaming of diamond dust and mink oil,
the hot sun on leather.
Perhaps he mustered an afternoon
lingering under the trees of his courtship,
lush and light dappled, his hand snug
between bark and the lithe arch of Grace’s back,
groping for the smooth, wood-singing spark
of a Hank Aaron two-run dinger.
These boozy hallucinations
Aunt Grace endured at a distance—
down the road in her kitchen apron
with a washcloth and a cup of cool water,
the Maytag ready to wring the salt crust
and whiskey from Uncle Herbert’s flannels.
All this, it’s been years.
The benders and the trees sacrificed
for The Series, the mill saw screeching
like radio static as it carved up slats
to send to Louisville for sluggers,
billets beveled and hewed to the grips
for Mickey Mantle and the Say Hey Kid.
Somehow, yet, old trees beget both bats
and record books, bedfellows, these,
on the long march down the West Kentucky hills,
logged to pay a few months on the mortgage,
or for a last-ditch round of chemotherapy.
Checks folks cash with a long look back
to that other time where Aunt Grace, still waiting,
puts up the last of her preserves and closes
her cupboard on the season.
Your wrist gives way with late December,
bone shards like snowburst along an old fissure.
When you call, I am stumbling between boxes,
moving again—back to the city
and its pharmaceutical haze, needles glinting
in the grass like sparks woven through tapestry.
“At my age,” you say, “there will be no surgery,”
and as you laugh, I can hear you
nonchalantly toeing that galactic chasm
across which there is little use for wrists.
Between us harried angels dodge cell signals
that carry our voices to each other.
The connection spits and fizzes
like singed feathers.
Out home, the new year heals over quietly,
as plowed furrows under snow.
The Earth roars on in its old treads.
Tomorrow, I know, you will pull your coat on
with your teeth and shake food into a bowl
for cats that coalesce like vapors out of barn stalls,
rangy familiars mute and unblinking.
You tell me you knew a man once
who roused his family just before midnight
and led them all in their night clothes
out the back door and round through the front,
frost stinging the little ones’ ankles.
Later, in the cold, early hours
I hear the neighbor woman settle on her stoop
in the false dawn of the street light
to sing, of all things, The Hallelujah Chorus,
like some old-time mystic or prophetess.
When it is over, how graciously
we fall back in our tousled beds
snug in the ebbing heat of the old year.
Rachel Rinehart’s poetry collection The Church in the Plains was selected by Peter Everwine as the winner of the 2016 Philip Levine Poetry Prize and was published by Anhinga Press in January 2018.