Sunday, October 20, 2013

For the past few days I've been working on a poem about the 1946 World Series, which featured the Cardinals and the Red Sox, and now it seems that the 2013 World Series will also feature the Cardinals and the Red Sox. When I began the poem, the series could just as easily have showcased the Dodgers and the Tigers, so this morning I'm feeling a little déjà vu all over again.

In the 1946 series, the Red Sox starters included Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, and Bobby Doerr. On the Cardinals side were Stan Musial, Joe Garagiola, Enos Slaughter, and a backup catcher with the fine name of Clyde Kluttz. The series was tight, but the Cardinals won it, and afterwards Ted Williams sat in his train car and cried. Meanwhile, across the sea, eleven Nazi war criminals had been sentenced to hang. Only ten went to the scaffold because Göring had poisoned himself the night before.

Despite my lifelong attachment to the Red Sox, I've been writing this poem from the point of view of a Cardinals fan. That's because the piece is part of my western Pennsylvania series, and Musial is from Donora, an infamous industrial hellhole that nonetheless spawned some remarkable athletes. (Ken Griffey Junior and Senior were also from the town.)

Donora went crazy over the Cardinals' October 1946 victory. Musial was a local Polish kid; his father, Lukasz, had been a laborer in the zinc mill; now here was their boy, triumphing over the great Ted Williams. But two years later, in October 1948, the mood in Donora was very different. An air inversion, caused by an interaction between a weather pattern and pollution from the zinc and steel mills, sickened 7,000 people, killing 20 of them as well as 800 animals. In the days after the inversion dispersed, 50 more people died, including Lukasz Musial.

The 1948 inversion does not appear in this poem, but that cloud hung over me as I wrote. Sometimes, as I work on the poems in this project, I feel as if I'm choking on history.

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