by Megan Pugh and Gillian Osborne
Excerpts from The Perfect Game
Editor’s Note: We rarely publish poetry here at Boom. But when Megan Pugh and Gillian Osborne, friends and poets, sent us these excerpts from their epistolary project The Perfect Game, we were smitten by the exchange, which they told us they started writing after watching Matt Cain pitch a perfect game for the San Francisco Giants in June 2012. The poems also fit beautifully within the “critical appreciations” of all things California that we publish online here at Boom, writings filled with deep appreciation, we dare say love, and a critical sensibility. In this selection, Megan Pugh bats first.
Bottom of the Seventh
At the start of the season with a new haircut
and dark glasses Tim Lincecum said he felt he could
write a pretty good poem or two. Then the slump,
the clubhouse silent after each loss. I wished
my friend at St. Mary’s were you so we could watch
the game and save the chatter for commercials. Was it
simpler then? We’d wake up and make each
other oatmeal, or I’d come crying from my room from
a phone call with a man I shouldn’t have fought for
though you and B., with whom I got to watch you
fall in love, were too patient to tell me so, for which I always
want to thank you. If we lived according to the commercials
on KNBR we’d build more decks, remember
to change our oil, drive Fords, and install solar panels
on houses we can’t afford to own. I want to lick my fingers
like Sergio Romo to execute each task with the right
amount of moisture. Timmy puts his fist to his mouth, puffs
up his cheeks, slackens into a corkscrew off the mound,
and on July 13, 2013 pitched his first no-hitter. Announcers
fill the breaks with trivia: how we knew we should live together
when we liked the same needleworked colonial scenes and
literate mouse candlesticks at the flea market but let
the other have them, how Sandy Koufax whose perfect game
Matt Cain’s was said to rival—though Cain got pulled before the
first inning was up (July 10, 2013), meaning what about
capricious Mistress Fortune or the baseball gods?—shut everyone
down at the ’66 All-Star Game at Candlestick on only one
day of rest. It’s the vaguely comforting cosmic energy
that it’s just not their year, says Ben. The game so goddamned
mental that R. A. Dickey who won a regional high school poetry
prize with a mere haiku is always coming back to
Longfellow: “Go forth to meet the shadowy future… and with
a manly heart.” Between here and Santa Barbara you could
write a lot of facts about how teams have come back.
July 15, 2013
San Francisco, CA
Top of the Eighth
After the family reunion I couldn’t sleep.
At a bar in the Denver Airport, Brian and I (Cardinals and Braves)
watched Sunday night baseball and wondered if you’d delivered
(and I wondered if the thing that we were living through would later
find its way into a poem). Nothing memorable—a sweep.
Slept the whole flight. The streets were empty and filled
with fog. I lay awake thinking about the loneliness
of private lives.
Language that is alive…
is clipped from argument, the students wrote, is care-
ful (full of care, not cautious), the opposite
of flat. I walked off
into the field, expecting
wildflowers brought by a Mayflower to populate New
Fields. But the fields were somewhere else. The only wild
pent up in greeny compressions
that signaled a frog, or a bear surveying the edge of a highway somewhere
that might be summer here.
The asphalt of courts a green
like an unanswered question, an opening. Stadiums and glades.
Or in a park in California, once, Brian and I throwing pitches.
What if your family were a state, I asked? They turned their thoughts to paper.
Our state is small, I wrote. Its borders
are the coasts.
August 20, 2013
Bottom of the Eighth
Two days into a new season and three seasons
into our stuttering back and forth: Monday was soggy
but now San Francisco’s redolent of jasmine, billboards
for services for startups I don’t understand. I barely
sleep. Last night Tim Lincecum threw up
in the clubhouse, which someone on the Internet
said could’ve come in handy for protesters
of Google buses, for apparently all stories
now tie into that story. I too am guilty
of not letting baseball be baseball: opening day
a family reunion since you don’t pick your team
but you love them, hope they’ll help you love
again the place you live, lawns mown, flags
unfurled, awnings rattling up, the radio back
on. First Brian left, then you, then Max, then Josh
and Asiya, Mark and Nadia, now RJ, and Brian
Wilson’s a Dodger who debuted with “Ring of Fire”
at his walk-on. After Zito pitched seven and two-thirds innings
of shutout ball and kept the team alive (October 19, 2012)
his teammates tapped him on the heart. Johnny Cash
told June he’d marry her before they’d even met
and how’s this for avoiding sentimentality:
my son is eight months old and saying eeee-eeee-eeee
on the floor below me, trying hard to stand.
I don’t have any new ideas about being female
though I cry more and know I’m a mammal, thank
God they didn’t trade Timmy away. Jackie
Mitchell “has a swell change of pace and swings
a mean lipstick,” said the New York Daily News
before she struck out the Babe and Lou Gehrig
(April 2, 1931). In Bull Durham Susan Sarandon
fucks pitchers into pros. I turn off the game
to put the baby to bed, then to kiss Eliot as
we learn later Romo was getting the save
and Tim Hudson in his first game in the family
held the Diamondbacks scoreless for seven and two-thirds innings.
April 2, 2014
San Francisco, CA
Top of the Ninth
The first summer in Santa Barbara we didn’t have a professional park
so we watched the wooden bat league and pretended it was history in action,
the small-town fans, the hometown boys, the terrible pitching, a view of the mountains.
There wasn’t a bar in town we liked enough to root for the Giants in public.
And last year, the Giants weren’t in the playoffs and so I learned to care for the Rays:
Will Myers and Evan Longoria with the best batting stances in baseball:
their knees almost straight, the bats high above their heads, patiently waiting forever,
and then the ball comes and they make crushing it look like diving into water.
And that summer, my mother and I drove by softball fields in Nebraska
which were full of spectators, lit by enormous lights, full of the love for the game.
And the few streets of Lincoln that didn’t feel abandoned were packed
with bars, with TV’s, tuned to college teams, men’s and women’s.
And last spring when I came to the Bay it wasn’t for baseball but for poetry,
met another friend in Oakland at Mamma’s Royal, a diner with a mural
of 1940s pin-up girls in pink shorts with blond hair straddling baseball bats
as if they were horses or maybe even dolphins or maybe even missiles.
And this weekend, we’ll drive to Bakersfield to watch the Blaze
(currently with the best record in all of baseball) take on the Visalia Rawhide.
Their base stealer last year finally vaulted to the majors while Brian’s friend,
the assistant manager, recruits other Floridians for “mascot duty”: a pelvic-thrusting dragon.
I loved the Giants most when they won the pennant in 2010 and then the World Series,
when we stood on the corners of streets in the Mission enamored of strangers
who offered us fist bumps, hugs, who yelled in our faces, and drove down Mission Street
slowly in their low riders in an impromptu parade (like the dance party one street over
in the hipster stronghold of the neighborhood the night Obama was first elected):
baseball’s volatile, vocal publics. The last time I was riding the train from San Francisco
to Oakland, a month ago, I watched a group of young men (younger than us),
in Giants hats, persistently calling various authorities to find out if their friend,
who had been escorted out of the game for drunkenness was “safe” with the police.
“Hello, I’ve called several times, I’m just trying to locate my friend,” one guy kept saying,
swaying to the rhythm of the train and the after-effects of the game and beer.
Several people seemed visibly moved by this public and probably pointless display of friendship,
including me. I thought about the poems we had been writing. I still care for the Giants
but I could love other teams, or even other sports, I think. When Brian narrates
the lives of players, or when he tears up because of some improbable win or loss,
some rule-bound, yet unpredictable, feat of heroism or physical grandeur,
I’m reassured. The softball fields of Santa Barbara are parched. The town is painfully polished.
There isn’t a public we belong to here, but there might be a team, or an evening, or a park.
Biking home tipsy under stars from the Creekside Tavern in Goleta, jasmine and vine roses,
the empty horse-shoe lots and the tennis courts and the parks full of people Sunday afternoons.
May 9, 2014
Santa Barbara, CA
Bottom of the Ninth
When Laura asked if I would be a Giants fan for life even though Eliot, Theo, and I are leaving what you called in an email about our apartment “a hillside hamlet in the midst of a big city” for Portland, which has no major league team, just a farm for Arizona Diamondbacks whom I don’t like, and soccer which I don’t even want to like, I thought, of course: already I’m planning to stream KNBR from my laptop in the new kitchen, which I can’t picture because we haven’t rented a house yet to make it feel like home. What you wrote about the Rays only sounded adulterous: because loyalty, because hyperbolic fandom, because turning business into love and teams into family, when in fact players have real families and so do we. If we move back to the Bay it won’t be for San Francisco where no one can afford to live anymore: it’ll be for the land of the A’s. Or we’ll go somewhere else worth rooting for: near the Nationals, the Mariners, the Cardinals with the most beautiful logo in all of baseball and ready access to frozen custard, or we’ll stay put. Theo will think it normal to hike in rain pants. The poets tell us that baseball unfolds leisurely on summer days so long we didn’t need electric lights until night games and playoffs. Out here summer doesn’t come until fall. Up on the parched and golden hill where on foggier days we used to imagine we were walking through a British novel, grasses keep replacing each other: the city I look at with my son on my back is not the one you and I moved to, or if we’re being technical the one that existed yesterday when I rewrote parts of this poem to try to make it worth sending to you. Someone else will live in our apartment and put things into the cabinet where you used to store your grandmother’s purple glasses and where I keep my diminishing supply of gold ones. Hunter Pence had only been a Giant for a few weeks when he started dropping poetry about it, but if baseball teams are ships of Theseus the club endures as will perhaps my love for it. This weekend Joe Panik had his first two hits in the majors and helped staunch a losing streak after Panda, wearing Bumgarner’s two-sizes-too-small cowboy boots between at-bats, quit bringing luck. Someday Panda will be gone and Bumgarner too, Timmy and Sergio Romo and Buster Posey will retire and Angel Pagan and Pence and Matt Cain and Marco Scutaro has been on the DL all season and I will keep will I keep loving the Giants? When I played Eliot the Randy Newman song about his poor little mama who didn’t know a soul in L.A., I should have known I would cry. Designed to break your heart. On the hill I glower at the millionaire’s house with the mural of a shirtless girl sticking her thumb in the eye of a shark whose teeth look like the city skyline and dream of finding golden baseballs someone found seventy years ago when the Seals hosted their annual baseball hunt, back when Bernal was frontier enough that mounted cowboys held back the crowd until it was time to start looking, players standing by to autograph the balls: Joe DiMaggio and his brother and everyone else whose names I forgot, back when the boys still played for the home team, back when Marilyn was still Norma Jeane, back when sheep roamed the dirt roads of our I mean for a few more weeks my I mean their neighborhood.
June 23, 2014
San Francisco, CA
Image at top by Nate Bolt, via Flickr.