Heading for Home

by Karen Luke Jackson

       for Jonathan

Bases loaded, one run down
full count, two outs.
A high school senior
steps into the batter’s box
taps home plate
hoists bat, focuses on the pitcher
awaiting the catcher’s signal,
a state playoff in the balance.

           His grandfather, eyes closed
lies dying in a hospital bed,
a radio beside him blaring.
Recruited after high school
by the Saint Louis Cardinals,
he and the boy share a given name
and a build that favors them
in the sport: big thighs

tight strike zone
strong wrists.

           No matter how
the young man swings,
or if he gets caught looking,
they both know this moment
will tag him for the rest
of his life weighted with memories
of his grandfather’s advice
during Little League games
and after tournaments played
with the same guys
now stubble-jawed teens
who hang in the dugout chomping
sunflower seeds or juicing
tobacco onto red clay,
their caps clutched, afraid
to watch, afraid not.

Radio announcer delivers
the play:
           pitcher’s shake off
           nod to the catcher
           slow windup
           sinker to the plate.

           Batter swings─
wood cracks

           white ball wings toward the lights
           as grandfather listens

Karen Luke Jackson is a facilitator with the Center for Courage & Renewal. Her poems and stories have appeared in Alive Now, The Great Smokies Review, Broad River Review, Ruminate, moonShine review, and Kakalak.

About Heading for Home—An assignment to write a narrative poem grounded in a cultural theme prompted baseball memories, including one of my son hitting a home run hours before his grandfather died.