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“Rain Delay: Toledo Mud Hens, July 8, 1994,” by Martin Espada

This poem by Martin Espada was published in his 1996 book of poetry titled Imagine the Angels of Bread, and Espada worked as groundskeeper for the Triple A Toledo Mud Hens for a time. This piece paints such a vivid picture of rural America; it’s certainly the kind of scene I would expect to find in a movie set in a small town.

*

Despite the rumors of rain,
the crowd spreads across the grandstand,
a hand-sewn quilt, red and yellow shirts,
blue caps. The ballgame is the county fair
in a season of drought, the carnival
in a town of boarded factories,
so they sing the anthem as if ready
for the next foreign war.
Billboards in the outfield
sell lumber, crayons, newspapers,
oldies radio, three kinds of beer.

The ballplayers waiting for the pitch:
the catcher coiled beneath the umpire’s alert leaning;
the infielders stalking with poised hands;
then the pitcher, a weathervane spinning in the wind;
clear echo of the wood, a ground ball,
throw, applause. The first baseman
shouts advice in Spanish to the pitcher,
and the pitcher nods.

The grandstand celebrates
with the team mascot
prancing pantomime in a duck suit,
a lightning bug called Louie
cheerleading for the electric company.
Men in Caterpillar tractor hats
rise from seats to yell at Louie
about their electric bills.

Ballpark lit in the iron-clouded storm,
a ghost dirigible floating overhead
and a hundred moons misting the grey air.
A train howls in the cornfields.
When the water strikes down,
white uniforms retreat from the diamond,
but in the stands
farm boys with dripping hair
holler their hosannas to the rain.

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