the taste of leather
I fell in love with the taste of leather
while I was standing in a softball field
somewhere in central Ohio.
I was maybe eight, with two ugly rope knots for knees,
Coke bottle myopia, playing outfield,
propped up like a flamingo
to scratch a leg scab bloody
with the top of a tennis shoe.
My glove was pure grain calf leather,
rose brown and fragrant as the sun on hot arms.
It wasn't one of those stupid vinyl imports;
this was the real shebang,
a little too long for my fingers
bought to grow into,
and come evening,
Dad would sit with me in the living room,
showing me how to work the pocket back and forth
to soften it up.
“A good baseball glove will get better over time
if you take care of it,” he said,
popping his fist in the pocket of his old glove.
To sharpen a quality pocket knife
you spit a bead in the middle of a whet stone,
or you drop a little black pool of sewing machine oil,
then you hold your mouth together
while you work the blade.
And pay attention, because the angle matters.
It’s art and a science.
You don't want to ruin a quality knife.
When you polish your Sunday shoes,
you spread newspaper
and you take time to take the strings out.
When you thread a pinched off piece of night crawler
onto a little brass hook,
or take the skin off a squirrel,
or break the trash down,
or carry the logs to the pile,
there’s a way to be smart about it.
But I was eight and safe, and in all that luxury
I laughed at his liturgies as if they were rabbit's feet,
thinking America and childhood would stand forever.
So on Wednesdays I stood out in the grass
avoiding fly balls, saying, "I'll get it," to nobody in particular
but never running much,
chewing the thumb webbing between two molars,
and wondering if the Apache Indian girls
used to gnaw down scraps from the teepees
their Papas made to keep out the the night wolves.