Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sonny Liston (1970)

Sonny Liston

Liston - Clay poster

Sonny Liston  (1970)

The silence is so sweet as Liston jabs a needle
into his log-size forearm.  He is hardness,
quick hands, and he is the last time Ali is Clay.
Night Train, out of the oak record player,
lopes around the room like a drunk dog.
I always want to say, "Love me,"
and I couldn't spit it out to no one.
Sometimes young fighters stop by after sparring
at Johnny Tocco's Gym, jump the prime rib spread.
Sonny, he don't always be mean, his wife says.
Morning is racing down Sunrise Mountain
and the desert is speckled with the bodies of men
who couldn't pay up.  Liston shuffles, fists up,
to the gold curtains, peeks out, bellows, Boo!

Sonny Liston as Santa Claus for Esquire

This poem is included in a Red Shuttleworth chapbook, Brief Lives.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Carolina League Old Timers Game, 1980

 Enos Slaughter
Durham, North Carolina
Summer 1980

Carolina League Old Timers Game, 1980

     for Miles Wolff

Dead arms cock and toss
ghostly looping baseballs.
With golf course tans,
paunches, and bored
teenaged children
in the stands.
they trade anecdotes
wives never hear.

In the dugout,
young minor leaguers
owned by the Atlanta Braves
giggle, nor recognizing
how it is they will gather
their own aged summers
into a blue weather
three-inning old timers game
where the trails cross
past pink slips, real jobs.

In our dugout,
Joe Cowley farts,
says Enos Slaughter
is obscenely fat.
Out on the mound,
Tommy Byrne kicks
at the rubber
with new spikes.

Gallagher tells me
not to watch too long.
I have to warm up
our starting pitcher,
a bonus baby
West Point drop-out
whose hard one explodes
like a grenade as it
crosses the plate.

But I want to memorize
this grassy field in May sunlight,
the baggy flannel uniforms,
the bald, blunt head of Enos Slaughter
as he grins and signs a ball.
I want to memorize
the blonde, nearly bare-breasted
woman interviewing Bob Veale for TV,
her butt tense and snug
in grey designer jeans.

I want to memorize
the quizzical expression
on Tommy Byrne's face
as he adjusts his grip
on a batting practice ball,
the pheasant-brained
radio announcer eating
his fourth free hot dog,
the wide-open happiness
of middle-aged baseball players
who never expected this
residue of poise and grace.

It's good to sit here
out of the old timers' way
with my hand in my glove.
When the years have been piled on
and I'm nearer some mortuary,
I'll stand over there, just behind
home plate with the gear on
one last blood-pulsing time.

And I'll look over here
to the dugout to see myself
young again, lean and hard,
my hands tight with impatience.
I'll look over one spring day,
then turn around, squat and catch
my finest innings... even if
I resemble a beached sea lion.

This poem first appeared in The Minneapolis Review of Baseball (now named Elysian Fields Baseball Quarterly ) in 1985, edited by Steve Lehman.

 Joe Cowley
Summer 1980

 Bob Veale
Summer 1980

Red Shuttleworth
Summer 1980

After the release of the movie Bull Durham, a lot of guys who played for the Durham Bulls (the Atlanta Braves Class-A minor league team in the early 1980's) were taken for bullshitters when they claimed they had been there... on the grass at Durham Athletic Stadium.  The Bulls returned to the Carolina League thanks to local franchise owner Miles Wolff.  It was Miles who paid my salary when I was the bullpen coach in 1980.  Every January I call Miles and thank him for the gift of being a Durham Bull in 1980.  A baseball visionary, Miles Wolff was instrumental in returning minor league baseball to profitable popularity.

Baseball Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter has passed on.  Tommy Byrne is gone, too.  Joe Cowley is rumored to be a nuts & bolts salesman somewhere in the South, but, after Durham, Joe went on to pitch in the Major Leagues for the Braves, Yankees, White Sox, and Phillies.  Bob Veale, my roommate on the road in 1980, our pitching coach, who led the National League in strikeouts in 1964 while pitching for the Pirates, is retired somewhere in Alabama.

The Durham Bulls are now a Triple-A minor league team.  Miles Wolff no longer owns the franchise.  I will never be invited back to an old timers game.  

The Deer

The Deer

Thunder and she vanishes
into a haze of evergreens,
perfumed gold dress billowing.
A deer runs soundlessly
and blue night comes.

In the village, children break
all the school windows
and the principal prays
to the goddess of photography.

In the nearby hotel
the maid strips
in her favorite lavender room,
stretches pale fingers
to the ceiling...
as if to touch
the coupling a floor up.

In woods as dark as a kettle,
a deer stands beside
a blonde prom queen
runner-up, his antlers
gentle on her forehead.

This poem, in an earlier version, first appeared in Wind Magazine (Volume 17, Number 61, 1987), edited by Quentin R. Howard.

Living at the edge of the wilderness of British Columia, up in the Rocky Mountain Trench, on the fringe of an "instant town," I was drawn to the poetry of Georg Trakl.  I was engaged by translations made by Robert Bly and James Wright... and by Herbert Lindenberger's book in the Twayne's World Authors Series, Georg Trakl (Twayne Publishers, 1971).  That was in the winter of 1974-75.  The poetry of Trakl vastly enlarged what I thought could be done with poetry... and extended the education received from Kay Boyle and William Dickey at San Francisco State University.  In the autumn of 1979, Lindenberger, a long time Stanford University professor in comparative literature, spent time with my poems and me.  I shall forever be indebted to Herbert Lindenberger for his criticism of my early poems and for his encouragement.  My poem The Deer was deeply influenced by Trakl and Lindenberger.

Herbert Lindenberger
Stanford University
Fall 1979

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Roadside Attractions... a one-poem chapbook by Red Shuttleworth

"Roadside Attractions is an open notebook of the road, a daily, yearly and lifelong diary; a memory-poem that in a mere five pages imparts the essence of what it means to be capital-W Western.  A literary Burma Shave tour of back roads and fast-maturing frontier towns punctuated by Shuttleworth's unique rhythms and subjects (some of whom belong in David Lynch films), Roadside Attractions is compelling for its counterpoints... the West as a place of big dreams and lost expectations, its people subject to the Old West's excitement and tedium and the New West's opportunity and trepidation."
                        -- Jon Chandler, Roundup Magazine