Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Working the Wood” by John C. Mannone, Poet of the Week. One of Mr. Mannone’s poems will be featured every weekday during the week of January 18, 2015. Mr. Mannone’s biography may be found here: http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/2015/01/poet-of-week-john-c-mannone.html.
Working the Wood
John C. Mannone
Standing tall, I grip the bat, legacy of pale grains
pressing into palms, fingers. I can feel home-
plate, earth pulver—orange clay smoothing wood
in my hands, strong white ash that once stood
Dad lumbered the dense heart
of straight trees, Grandpa sawmilled logs. I helped
during the Great Depression, my schoolhouse world
filled with two-by-fours, planks of oak, maple and ash,
the buzz of saws, wood dust flying. I could smell
damp oak, the pine in heavy air from early rain.
The straight-grained, the knot-free rolled to the splitting
wedge hammering blows with each vent of steam.
Split trunks turned, the slow lathe shaving rough edges
before their coating: preservation against the fray, the rot.
We’d bundle the billets, truck them to the lumberyard.
Let air dry the sap and gum before shaping, sanding
replicas of Babe Ruth bats, pine knots ubiquitous
in the barrel.
I smell the damp oak, the pine in heavy air
and early morning rain breezing from the stands.
The pitcher winds. Hard thrown slider
slices air. My bat arcs to intercept. I feel the ball
press, wood flex in that split-second recoil, rattling
the bones in my fingers all the way to elbows,
pinging nerves. Shear thrust of arms, pivot of hips,
rockets the ball—line drive sluggered past center fielder.
The crowd’s roar echoes the sound
of falling timber. Dad’s voice cracking.
Poet’s Notes: “Working the Wood” arose from an implied challenge from the editor of Aethlon: Journal of Sports Literature after an otherwise good poem (“Magnus Force”) fell short, because it wasn’t personal enough. I learned in my early years that imagery isn’t nearly enough to carry a poem—even an imagist poem. My early years were fraught with deficiencies, but one-by-one I worked to improve them: clarity, rhythm, and literary depth among others. That is what was missing in my first baseball poem—literary depth—that thing which gives reason for a reader to care about the poem (answering the “so what?” question). By the time I wrote “Working the Wood,” I better understood these things, and my reward was an acceptance.
In this poem, there’s a flashback, which is sandwiched by two quick real-time sequences. Time is dilated, so to speak, in between the batter (narrator) poised for the pitch and the pitch itself with the subsequent line drive. The poem enters the past and returns to the present through strong sensory inputs of the present world—especially the visual, tactile, and olfactory ones. The closing line brings the symbolism of working the wood home.
Since I live in a different time space, I will add that imagery enabled me to enter the fictive world set in post Depression-era sports. And none of my ancestors was involved in the subject of the poem. The entire poetic narrative was imagined.
Editor’s Note: There is a poetry in baseball, and Mr. Mannone has certainly captured a bit of it here. “Working the Wood” was first published in Aethlon: Journal of Sports Literature in January 2010.