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#39 | Sailor Boy in the Checker Bar on Maundy Thursday Night | An April Funeral in Pennsylvania

Jerry Wemple

# 39

"Campy was the hardest man I ever met," 
Kahn the sportswriter said.

Campy, the guinea-nigger-halfbreed,
Kneeling in a Germantown sandlot
With bruised ribs and a ball in his glove.

Campy rising at 1 a.m. to deliver milk
And two blocks' worth of papers.
Campy who had three grown men pull up

In a white Caddy convertible,
Pay his momma three times
Daddy's weekly wage to let him

Catch games on the weekends.
Campy who quit school at 15. Spent ten
Years squatting in the Negro leagues,

Birmingham to Harlem. Spent ten winters
In the Latin leagues -- Mexico,
Puerto Rico, Venezuela -- making the year

A hard and dusty perpetual summer.
Campy who got the call from Mr. Rickey
To be fourth, join Robinson at Ebbets.

Campy who slept across town
While the rest laughed it up
And danced a block from the stadium.

Campy who got MVP in '51, '53 and '55.
Campy who had mitts so sore he couldn't 
Lift the trophy. Who sat upside-down

In an icy car in a Long Island ditch
Thinking how he couldn't feel his legs.
Who sat upstairs, looking out the window

While his wife made love to another man
In the front seat of a Pontiac.
And Campy who grew old remembering

A September afternoon. And that sound.
And how the ball rose steadily 
Just inside the third base line

And how he thought,
"Jesus, sweet Lord Jesus, oh it's good to be alive."

Sailor Boy in the Checker Bar on Maundy Thursday Night

Jimmy Red, the coke dealer's brother,
Is mouthing off to me.
He's thinking I'm trying to scoop
Rosa. Not tonight. Just 
A hey to a neighborhood kid.

He's hammering and hammering.
After fair warning I pop
Him with a sucker shot. Catch him
In the mouth, off-balance.

His boys stand up, then the motorcyclers
Get up because their boy
Clever Trevor is my boy, too.

After the ruckus the barman

A pisser start to a two-week leave at home.

So I walk. Take a leak in the alley.
Then head across Market, give a quick

Wave to who-knows-who headed
Toward the park in a piece-of-junk
Chevy. Drifting down the street I count 

The stores. Shaffer's: gone, Linderman's:
Gone, the pizza shop with two stoners.
I cut across the priest's yard, past 
The church. But turn right instead of left.

I'm sweating by now so I sit
On the bench at the Community Garden.
No one around in this part of town.
And I say to whoever's listening:
Christ, even the moon looks damaged tonight.

An April Funeral in Pennsylvania

In memory of Clarence Rowe

These men only wear suits for two reasons.
No one is getting married today.

Outside, on the stone porch, we stand
Awkward and alone. A few of us smoke

Into the twilight. A woman wipes 
Her eyes. A man cleans his glasses.

Inside you stand five feet
>From the coffin: Thanks for

Coming. Nice to see you
To folks you might remember.

The Masons leave the room
At ten to nine. They return in white aprons.

Speak of the purity of the lambskin,
Brotherhood. He's built well and

Will take refreshment in the temple,
One of them tells us as the others

File past, bend low, whisper 
A shibboleth in the ear of the corpse.

In the morning, we go to the college.
I buy a book, a pair of shorts.

We linger. Rest against the hood
Of the car. A thin haze obscures 

The spring sun and nascent landscape. 
In the distance, a farmer plows his field. 

The tractor's steady sputter a reminder. 
Pretty girls walk across new grass 

As the mist of our voices drifts away 
Then dissipates.


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