Self-Portrait Listening to the Oak Ridge Boys

Amorak Huey

 

Dust-coated and thirsty on the second-longest day of summer, we are 11 and restless, perpetually between games at the town ballparks in the lowland by the river. There are three fields; the middle one is ours. We are old enough to throw our own pitches, not quite ready for the Pony League and its 90-foot bases: so much distance ahead of us.

We are knee socks and stirrups, tucked-in jerseys and hair twisting from under these caps that declare our assigned loyalties. It takes a week of tryouts to learn who we will be each season. Hawks? Pirates? Braves?

We are waxed-paper cups crushed together to serve as the ball in our invented game, “Cup Ball,” we call it, wise enough to see the value in a certain kind of honesty. It is played much like baseball, only without scrutiny or supervision, in the gravel between the roots of an ancient oak tree and the far side of the concession stand, ghost runners allowed when there aren’t enough of us to keep the game moving.

We are so many versions of the same joke:

Q: Did you hear who’s coming to town?

A: (knocks off your hat) Flipper!

Q: Did you hear what they’re calling the next Star Wars movie?

A: (knocks off your hat) Flipper Strikes Back!!

All we know of humor is torturing each other; it is all we know of love.

There is so much we do not know about our bodies, their limits and intersections. We crave contact; we create it even in a sport where it is not inherent to the rules. We do not know the violence we are capable of.

We are learning to throw, learning to hit, learning to keep score and count errors, learning to win—or not—learning to ignore our parents, coaching and complaining from the stands, taking out their new divorces on the umpires, our dads and their cigarettes lining the outfield fences, moms huddled behind home in a cloud of hair spray, everyone wary and everyone with a rooting interest in everything that’s happening.

We are learning not to rub the bruised spots of our lives.

Someone slides in the gravel. Blood soaks through uniform pants. Someone makes a fist. No one cries, though most of us want to. We chase foul balls for the free Coke and for the thrill of chasing.

Someone has brought a radio and WYDE-85 is doing a stunt where they play nothing but “Elvira” for 24 hours. We try out our deepest voices: giddy up ba-oom papa oom papa mow mow; we don’t know what it means (I know, I know! It means … Flipper!), but we like the way we sound.

We don’t know how young we are, or how lucky, how big the world or how long 24 hours lasts, really—someone loses the ball in the sun, ghost runners advance automatically, the chorus repeats.

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Amorak Huey is author of the poetry collections Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy (Sundress, forthcoming in 2021), Boom Box (Sundress, 2019), Seducing the Asparagus Queen (Cloudbank, 2018), and Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sundress, 2015), as well as two chapbooks. Co-author with W. Todd Kaneko of the textbook Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology(Bloomsbury, 2018), Huey teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.