January Gill O’Neil was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and received a BA from Old Dominion University and an MFA from New York University. She is the author of Misery Islands (CavanKerry Press, 2014), winner of a 2015 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence, and Underlife (CavanKerry Press, 2009). She has received fellowships from Cave Canem and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. The executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, O’Neil also serves on the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ board of directors and teaches at Salem State University. She lives in Beverly, Massachusetts.
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America under the lights
at Harry Ball Field. A fog rolls in
as the flag crinkles and drapes
around a metal pole.
My son reaches into the sky
to pull down a game-ender,
a bomb caught in his leather mitt.
He gives the ball a flat squeeze
then tosses it in from the outfield,
tugs his cap over a tussle of hair
before joining the team—
all high-fives and handshakes
as the Major boys line up
at home plate. They are learning
how to be good sports,
their dugout cheers interrupted only
by sunflower seed shells spat
along the first base line.
The coach prattles on
about the importance of stealing
bases and productive outs
while a teammate cracks a joke
about my son’s ‘fro, then says,
But you’re not really black…
to which there’s laughter,
to which he smiles but says nothing,
which says something about
what goes unsaid, what starts
with a harmless joke, routine
as a can of corn.
But this is little league.
This is where he learns
how to field a position,
how to play a bloop in the gap—
that impossible space where
he’ll always play defense.
January Gill O'Neil
January Gill O’Neil is the author of Misery Islands (CavanKerry Press, 2014), winner of a 2015 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence, and Underlife (CavanKerry Press, 2009). She lives in Beverly, Massachusetts.