NEA Literature Fellowships

Sarah Freligh

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(2009 - Poetry)

City of Tonawanda Softball Championship

Two down, two out, two on in the ninth
when Sid Szymanski stands in at catcher,
sorry substitute for Larry whose sure
hands were summoned to a plumbing
emergency by his buzzing pager in the bottom
of the sixth. Still, the usual chatter
Hum, baby, hum hey Sidder Sidder Sidder
though Zack's guys are mentally packing
bats in bags, unlacing shoes in order
to get away - fast - before the Panthers,
arrogant bastards, can gather at home plate
in a love knot of high fives and beer foam
and gloat. Strike two and Sid calls time,
steps out to take a couple of practice cuts
a la Barry Bonds, a big man like him,
all head and chest, and Siddersiddersidder
the car keys are out, that's all she wrote
when the pitcher gets cute with a breaking ball,
hanging it a nanosecond too long, time
enough for even fat sad Sid to get around
and give that pill a ride.

Rounding first, already red faced, a crowd
in his throat, Sid wants to believe
it's not the sludge of a million
French fries, but pleasure
more exquisite than the first breast
he touched one winter Sunday
while his dad in the den upstairs
cursed the Packers and Bart Starr, while his mom
chattered on the phone to her friend
Thelma about macaroni casserole
and menstrual cramps, Sid swallowed
hard and bookmarked his place
in Our Country's History, the page before
the Marines stormed the hill at Iwo Jima
and turned back the godless Japs, a high tide
clogging his chest as Alice Evans unfastened
the pearl buttons of her white blouse
and presented him with the wrapped gift
of her breasts, now second base and third
and the thicket of hand-slaps all the way
home where Sid hugs the center fielder
hurried and embarrassed the way men do,
oh, the moment, replayed again and again
over Labatt's at Zack's, the first pitcher
delivered by the great Zack himself
rumored to have been the swiftest,
niftiest shortstop on the Cardinal farm
but called to serve in Korea and after that
the closest he got to baseball was standing
next to Ted Williams at a Las Vegas urinal

Tomorrow Zack will make a place
for the trophy between dusty bottles
of Galliano and Kahlua while Sid
will field calls from customers complaining
about rising cable rates and too many queers
on TV, pretty much what he'll be doing
five years from now and ten when his wife
leaves a meatloaf in the freezer and runs off
with Larry the plumber and in twenty years,
when Zack's Bar is bulldozed
to make way for a Wal-Mart,
Sid will slump in a wheelchair
in a hallway littered with old men
mumbling and lost, wrapped
in the soft cloth of memory:
The arc of the white ball, a pearl
In the jewel box of twilight sky.

"City of Tonawanda Softball Championship," from Sort of Gone by Sarah Freligh (c) 2008 Turning Point Books, Cincinnati, Ohio

Sarah Freligh's poetry and fiction have been published in many literary journals as well as featured on the NPR syndicated show Only a Game and Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac. She was the recipient of a Constance Saltonstall Foundation grant for poetry in 2006 and an Artist Residency Exchange Grant in 1997 from the New York Foundation for the Arts during which she completed a short story collection entitled The Absence of Gravity.

A chapbook of her poems, Bonus Baby (2002) was later expanded into Sort of Gone, which was published in February 2008 by Turning Point Books. A former sportswriter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Freligh is currently an adjunct professor of creative writing at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York.Photo by Barbara Morey

Author's Statement

When Dana Gioia called to tell me I'd won an NEA fellowship, I assumed it was a cruel prank (I think I kept saying "Who is this really" and "I don't believe you"). Like most writers I know, my life is a jigsaw puzzle, divvied up into small pieces. I try to make my writing the key piece and fit the rest of my life around it, but it doesn't always work that way. More often, I find myself fitting the writing into whatever spaces are available between whatever jobs I'm working at the moment. It's certainly not ideal, but not writing at all is worse.

The NEA has given me the greatest gift imaginable--the gift of time. I plan to use that time to work on poems for my second book and maybe complete--once and for all--the novel I've been working on since the Pleistocene Epoch entitled Half-Past Crazy. I am deeply grateful to the NEA for this opportunity.