Sultan of Swat

By | 29 March 2003
Why don't you read the papers?
It's all right there in the papers.
– Babe Ruth


Waking, wiping a cheese crust
of sleep from his eye, he
reaches for his pills.
Reading the label on the bottle:
it seems to say:
don't try too hard just
let it carry you” –
like- a river, he finishes,
the sentence and his pills.

It's prescribed like this
because mythology inadvertently
gets mixed up in the games
of chinese whispers
we play with our history.

Drunk on fairy floss and beer
the story they're telling in
Sideshow Alley is that Don Bradman,
fulfilling a promise to a
terminally ill child,
points straight back over
            Larwood's head at a spot
somewhere in centre field.
Winding up Larwood
gives it everything he's got,
to the screaming ecstasy and
spilt beer of the Chicago fans,
but even as the ball leaves his hand
Bradman's eyes are fixed upon it and,
with a flick of his wrist,
he sends it soaring out of
Wrigley Field.

Larwood, sticky with humiliation,
imagines a ball rocketing into
the soft-flesh of the batsman's
helmetless head as he walks
back to his mark.

Bradman, luxuriating in the profanities
and abuse he has evoked
watches an angry fan hurl a cup
of beer onto left field and spits
just missing the fielder at short leg.

Larwood turns and Bradman, like
a brave Achaean points back
prophetically to the same spot.
The bowler runs in like a roidrage
bull charging through the streets
of Pamplona and digs it in short,
a spear jagging up sharply,
but our Achilles has wiser eyes than this
stepping backward and away,
hooking awesomely
the ball
seems to climb
to the sun.

The news story is packaged thus:
The footage of the shot
from a variety of angles,
an interview with humble Bradman,
fans saying how he's the greatest
the world has ever seen and
then the fadeout:
the small child smiling from
his hospital bed,
this miracle breaks hearts
for joy at dinner tables

A kid finds one of the balls out in the street.
He hides it away in a box,
and forgets about it for years
until one day, for no reason
     that he can name,
  he starts to take it out at nights
and let its elegant stitching
   take him back to the cutgrass
    summer twilight,
the purity of those
      last minutes before dark.

It is a fact:
    The Bambino grows in deed and
    stature with every passing year.

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