Three Poems by Jesse Nathan


July 11

Babe Ruth on this day 100 years ago
Began his career as a pitcher by winning
The contest but striking out in his first at-bat
Going on to do nothing in moderation not women
Not homeruns not drinking cigars poker steak
And it was only a few days before that
That an agent of the colonized classes
Across the nonetheless-connected “pond”
Had assassinated a figure of imperialism
Commencing the end of many old ideas
And the beginning of many new ones
Or at least presenting the precipitate of decades
Of thinking revealed in a flash of violence
That would gas and murder its way
Across the continent for decades more
And probably created the conditions
For financial and intellectual flow
That would eventuate present-day Haight
And a bar called Alembic and a whisky called
Breaking and Entering that now glosses
My consciousness as I read alone
In a space that specializes in ways
To extract conversation I drink cucumber
Water and read on when Homer’s weary
Sailors saw the melancholy lotus-eaters
Stoned and smiling vaguely from the shores
Of some paradisiacal north African coast
It seemed unimaginably better than
The meaningless nonsense of sea labor
To men lost from their country their lives
Their women and in Tennyson’s version
The sweet music of addiction’s not an ugliness
But a kind of calm that accepts soft joy
And soft decay as the peace of time’s right
The swift turning of the seasons the loss
The droopy flowers fallen half into the creeks
The lush misty sea-air and all that sitting
I look up almost full moon here and walk
Home singing to myself the flower ripens
In its place ripens and fades and falls and hath
No toil fast-rooted in the fruitful soil
And I staring up at the sky see it not
Remotely hateful but as another thing unable
To understand why it is that the chemicals
In my body comprehend themselves
In terms of these feelings these needs
That twist everything up and leave
My voice thin or cause me to surge
Immoderate in the presence of
Philip Seymour Hoffman who I saw
Bizarrely this time selling peanuts
At the baseball game walking the aisles
In a flat-brimmed blue hat facing
The sea of faces shouting his prices
Looking maybe not so happy
But moving product well I see his eyes
When he roves my way
They seem inward turned
What does he see

In the fall of 1960, my father turned sixteen

The Bucs had taken the Yanks to seven
but the girl my dad that afternoon was asking
to prom was not, I think, aware of this.
They stood by her locker. From a nearby
classroom the ninth drifted out on AM
from Pittsburgh. What? the girl said, impatient—
my old man had paused mid-question
as Bill Mazeroski came to the plate—
and I suppose dad’s distraction showcased
no charm, must have signaled, well, what?
Meekness? Dreaminess? False interest?—
and as Mazeroski let ball one go past, dad
caught on and swallowed and blurted his hope
to her hoping he hadn’t let this one go.
Nope, she said, and then Maz went deep
ending thirty-five seasons of Pirate sleep.

The Sweep

On walks home from the train station
after an afternoon at the Coliseum
I would sometimes see couples kissing
on the corners of 24th in the sweet air
on sidewalk squares that would vary
in shades of grey and odd angles
cracked across thrusting roots.
The magnolia’s leaves above would
seem to gleam a green much greener
than the outfield in Oakland I could
see in my head the ball traveling
over in the late innings as it left
the stadium, the crowd tossing
hats, shrieking and high-fiving,
bringing out all sorts of brooms.

About the Author

Jesse Nathan

Jesse Nathan lives and works in San Francisco. He studies, edits and writes poetry.