At 73, I have long since given up
Soccer and basketball with him,
So we have devised a new game,
My grandson and I,
To play in the back yard on afternoons
Thick with the warmth of late spring.
I am the pitcher,
He the rest of our baseball team.
We toss the ball back and forth,
Field grounders and pop flies,
Each catch an out.
Sometimes the other guys reach base,
An errant throw skittering
Into the monkey grass, hidden by
Fallen azalea blooms.
My teammate, playing deep,
Somewhere between childhood and
Adolescence, applies tags to phantom foes
As they foolishly try to stretch a hit.
Our team scores a run
Each time we retire the side.
We have never lost.
TSTmpj: America, summer, and baseball. (Especially for international readers) what is your take on baseball and the American psyche?
Robert Demaree: Baseball, much more than other sports, holds mythic properties for Americans, and novels such as Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris and Bernard Malamud’s The Natural find in our ‘national pastime’ a metaphor for our national life: effort and dedication pay off, but not always; you don’t have to be seven feet tall or weigh 300 pounds; you can come from behind in the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off homer, and withal a poignancy, the outskirts of sorrow.
Poets from Marianne Moore to Donald Hall have likewise used the details of the game for setting and theme.
The place of baseball in the American psyche depends on a kind of sociocultural memory. Many of us look back fondly on afternoon games in rust belt cities, how even small cities and towns would have a minor league team, or an amateur team with the name of the town on flannel shirts.
Listen to a baseball broadcast on a summer night: not frenetic, like basketball or ice hockey, but the steady rise and fall of the play-by-play and banter, the low rhythmic hum of the game in the background, like cicadas (no batter, no batter, no batter), good company, comfortable like an old infielder’s glove, well oiled, broken in.
TSTmpj: I love the sense of, in a very deep way, the young and the old being equals. This wisdom prompts me to ask: what is "loss" in life for you, in the context of age?
Robert Demaree: The setting of “Batterymates” is not, strictly speaking, baseball but one of those fantasy games that baseball inspires. It had not occurred to me before this interview that there might be a connection between the last line (“We have never lost.”) and what I described in another poem as “the abiding presence of loss.” The two people in the poem are indeed equals—they are teammates—and the loss the narrator fears is that his teammate may in time outgrow the game; that, and, of course, the encroaching of years: I do not feel them yet but suspect they are out there somewhere.
TSTmpj: How has your connection with nature changed as you've gotten older?
Robert Demaree: Growing older—retirement—has offered more time for writing, which in turn has quickened an awareness of nature, much of it related to the four months of the year we spend on a small lake in New Hampshire. I have poet friends who write beautifully and knowledgeably about nature, something that does not come naturally to me, if you will. So while I feel a strong acquired kinship with both goldfinch and grackle, I have to say that I value the fallen azalea bloom not so much for its own beauty and sadness, but rather as the hiding place of an errant throw.
Robert Demaree is a retired educator who's authored four collections, including Mileposts (2009). He has had over 650 poems individually published.