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poetry Barnstormers

With baseball's opening day this week, Malik Abduh's "Barnstormers" evokes the days when race prejudice barred great athletes from the major leagues.



“They used to say, ‘If we find a good Black player, we’ll sign him.’ They was lying.”
—Cool Papa Bell

They tell me Pop Pop was some ballplayer.
Copper toned, tan as the leather of his glove;
squinting on a dirt mound under Virginia skies.

A southpaw they tell us.
Tall & slight—the way a pitcher should be.
Lanky arms made his wind & release like a slingshot.

Fingers in a question mark for a knuckler.
A bit of tobacco spit made sinkers spiral & drop
over the plate like a yo-yo. His mud ball
would have put the Babe on his ass they say.

At grand mom’s sometimes I stare at his creased
photo fading in the family album & think to myself
He sure don’t look like much
tattered uniform, sleeves coming apart at the shoulders.

Pullman-porters clanking dishware on sleeping cars,
barnstorming every city from Tupelo to Hackensack;
warming up in bullpens beside chicken fence.

Cheers from the crowds became the
cries of eleven children & the docks
at the Navy Yard along the Delaware,
where ship stacks blackened the sky.

We played peek-a-boo at his funeral
beneath the pews of 19th St. Baptist,
too little to care anything about the cancer
he coughed for months.

They say he always joked that when he went,
he would haunt them ballparks the way they did
in the days when him & his tribe were just
shadows of the game.

Malik Abduh received his MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers-Camden in 2011. He was the recipient of the 2008 Rutgers University Alumni Association award for Creative Writing. His work has appeared in Four Way Review, Southern Indiana Review, Slush, Some Call it Ballin’ and other journals.