It was getting late.


Way too late to play ball, we

should have quit half an hour ago.


In that innocent age our parents

were not truly worried, just angry

we’d broken the first commandment: 

Be home by suppertime.


Batters could barely make out the pitches against a dying

western glow.  Fielders couldn’t judge a pop up, much less

a liner streaking toward a crew-cut 13-year-old distracted

by something waiting just around the corner of his life.


We were down to four a side—

pitcher, two in the infield, one

in the outfield. Own side catches,

pitcher’s hands and left-of-second out.


Then David takes off, leaving us four to three.

Jimmy yells “Invisible second baseman!”


Ricky yells right back “Not with you cheaters!” 


An invisible runner runs. An invisible fielder does

whatever the loudest voice in the game says he did.


Greg picks up his glove and starts to leave. 


Someone says “OK, invisible fielder at second, he grabs

anything within six feet of the base.  Call ‘em right.” 


As if we could see to call our own names.


So we play the last outs in the dark. 

No light but the spill from a distant

kitchen window and three street lamps

whitening bits of the parking lot next to

the field like patches of frost in August.


Invisible second baseman. 

Hard to say where he’ll be,

which ones he’ll catch

and which let go by.


Whose side he’s playing on.


Mike’s on first.  He takes a pretty good leadoff,

starts sprinting for second even before the pitch.


There’s a thunk and we all stop breathing. A scream

and Tom the fastest runs to the house with a light.


A siren, an ambulance, quick but too late.



Six walk home along leafy streets,

boy sweat drying cold on our skin

as crickets chirp end of Summer.


We pass TV-flickered windows,

murmuring porches, parched lawns

comforted by hissing sprinklers, and

at every corner an invisible man

waits to cut us down.


Before high school ends

one of us will die going

fast in his new used car.


Not much later another dies

losing a war, then a third by

his own hand for a sorrow

known to none.


Those who survive are well past

the half-century mark.  Still players,

we no longer hope to win, we just

want to stay in the game.


To stay in the game never

called unless for darkness deep

as the sunset that night we

learned its brutal rules--


Everyone plays, nobody wins,

and the last out is always your own.





    

Rules of the Game

William de Kypia