Somebody told somebody that everybody told

Neil Armstrong to not even bother stepping foot

on the Negro side of the moon.       June, August

and July, three segregated summertime sisters

agreed, weather-wise. The year of our lord, 1969

was a color-line       shaped like      no shape at all.

It occurs to me now that before I left home,

hitchhiking, at age 16,            I did not know

that some things continue to go missing long after

they are found, and I didn’t realize that the physics

of throwing a baseball explains      every ounce of

racial tension in America.  But I won’t talk about that

now. Now, I want to talk about love.    As a kid, I fell

in love with the sounds of

the names of                                    baseball players:

Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron, Roger Eugene Maris,

Edward Charles “Whitey” Ford, Willie Mays, Willie

McCovey, Maury Wills, Billy Williams, Ernie Banks

and Stanley Frank Musical, the St. Louis music man.

And I can still hear the names,           baseball games

between the Temptations, the Supremes, the 4 Tops,

Motown songs       on Grandmama’s transistor radio.

“Crack,” the sound of a baseball kissing the sweet spot

of a baseball bat. “That ball’s outta here,” the always white

announcer would yell towards the Colored sport section

of my yellowed newspaper wallpapered room. And what

about the other pages in the other yellowed corners of

my unheard short radio story?          And what about

that white boy,      classmate in every class that year?

He’d never seen a “stolen base” like me. I didn’t know

I was supposed to knock him out.      I didn’t know

I was a nigger until         he called me               “Nigger”

deep in the very bottom of the 9th.      Me at the plate,

“crack,” a walk off (case closed) home run, dead center,

solid between the hazel-blue color of       two blue eyes.

The Pender County Board of Education didn’t see it

that way in base-hit terminology.  Me, expelled completely

from the school system for life           for being the “nigger”

I did not know I was until…

Still, so be it, anyway and yes,        I know I was

raised in a small, white town of three white Jesuses,

Baptist,        Presbyterian              and Methodist,

neither of which I liked much or loved the way I

loved potato salad, fried chicken and collard greens,

picnic-style-served            after Negro church services

on Sunday, summer afternoons             in the yard of

a church without a denomination. But the choir could

sing a stairway to Heaven and part way back if you

decided to get off along the way.                       Each of

the three white Jesuses had nice white churches with

tall steeples and           summer league baseball teams,

but I never asked to pray or play.                 Perhaps

I knew way back then, if water could be segregated,

“strike zones”             could be tailor made not to fit

a Black baseball boy growing up       in White Town.

Grandmama must’ve thrown my baseball cards

in the trash the day I left, the day the Board of

Pender Country Education decided I didn’t need any

more education. Years

later, Grandmama couldn’t remember, but I still

remember the magic. Yes, even now on some lazy

weather summer days, I’m eleven years old again,

listening lightly,     my voice         opening a pack of

baseball cards, the sounds of summer.    Me, side-

stepping up and down a dirt country road,

almost swallowing the afternoon,         the chew of

stale, hard baseball card chewing gum

stuck to the bottom of somebody else’s shoes, my

clean-up-batter blues.

And then, somehow, I find what I never did lose,

piano music playing clouds across a Carolina blue

sky, reminding me              quite beautifully

as I call out the sounds           of the names I loved:

Rico Petrocelli, Jose Santiago,

Louis Aparicio,

Bill Mazeroski,            Dizzy Dean and Dizzy Trout,

Roberto Clemente                    and Tony Conigliaro.