Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Slats Stuffenberger Story

Today, not many people remember the story of Sigmund "Slats" Stuffenberger, a major league baseball player of the 1950's. Other things command our attention, such as earning a living, watching "Celebrity Karaoke" or fighting corruption charges in federal court. 

But Slats's story is worth remembering. Born in Pigslop, Kansas in 1935, Slats was named Sigmund by his father, a poor but hard-working tenant farmer who admired 19th and early 20th century Austrian academics. Slats's father, Bifford "Pea" Stuffenberger, had high hopes for his only son to become a concert pianist, but young Sigmund wanted only to play big league ball.

Sadly saying their goodbyes on a train station platform in Phlebitis City, in the rain, wearing torn coats, and not having bathed in weeks, the elder and younger Stuffenbergers parted and Sigmund rode the train to Corn Corners, which at the time had its own Class D team, the Corn Corners Shuckers.

Shuckers skipper Ernest "Mad Dog" Mumford didn't think much of the green kid fresh off the farm, and refused to play him at all until the day when the team's star, Ragland Dollie--who had once batted twice for the New York Giants in September, 1905--broke his femur when he fell from the center field clock tower at the close of a cocaine-inspired spree. "You're in there, kid!" cried Mumford, and with that, Sigmund got his chance.

He tore through the minor leagues like there was no tomorrow, hitting a combined .439 for five teams, each one in a higher league than the one before it. He pitched, too, compiling a log of 31-3 on the mound. It wasn't long before scouts and telegrams from as far away as Cincinnati and Boston, wanting Sigmund--now known as Slats, for having once hit a grand slam home run with a bed slat to win a game for the old Oakland Oats--to come play big league ball began to arrive. 

Bright lights, big city! Slats arrived in Boston to play for the Braves on a June afternoon in 1952, when he was just 17 years of age. The veterans on the club gave him a warm welcome, setting his suitcase on fire and pouring itching powder into his jock strap. Undeterred, Slats got into the game as a pinch hitter and belted a line drive double down the line. Spurred, perhaps, by the itching powder, Slats showed speed nobody could remember seeing before, at least not in Beantown.

The next year, 1953, saw Slats traded to the Phillies, where he hit 62 home runs, won 14 games as a pitcher, and spent the winter playing pro basketball "for fun." He met a young woman named Betsy Helgenshooker, and married her. "I'll always remember what she said to me at the church altar on our wedding day," recalled Slats some years later during an interview for the Philadelphia Phrenology News. "She looked so beautiful. She smiled shyly at me from behind her lace veil and whispered to me that she was 'pretty sure' the baby was mine."  

Perhaps tired from changing nappies, Slats slumped to only 47 homers in '55, and then 31 in '56 as the Phillies dealt him to the Pirates for Spook Jacobs. In Pittsburgh, Slats became a Buddhist and renounced all material possessions. Converting to vegetarianism as well, Slats hit a meager .213 in fewer than fifty at bats before being shipped out to the Elmira Elephants of the Barnum & Bailey League. Playing center field and shortstop, as well as filling in on the flying trapeze, Slats whiled away the time until he could return to the bigs.

But he never did. Georgia Alabama, the circus Fat Lady, entered Slats's hotel room one evening and shot him in the abdomen with a revolver. "I loved him," she explained to police, as Slats clung to life at Hobgoblin Hospital in Elmira. Though the brave young man tried a comeback, first with the Elephants and later with a succession of 'bush league" clubs, it never worked out; Slats became an alcoholic bum, sleeping on cardboard boxes over steam grates in downtown Philadelphia. 

Despite his sad end, the memory of Slats Stuffenberger's exploits as a lad in 1953 is cemented in Phillies lore forever. As his widow Betsy said--with Slats's son Jamaal at her side--"Slats always saw the best in people, and in life. He was a good man." A good man who once swatted 62 baseballs into the seats in the summer of 1953.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Book Review : "Pennant Race"

Pennant Race: The Classic Game-by-Game Account of a Championship Season, 1961Pennant Race: The Classic Game-by-Game Account of a Championship Season, 1961 by James P. Brosnan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this, but not as well as I liked Brosnan's earlier book "The Long Season." Like that book, this one has his acerbic wit, and an insider's view of baseball as it was in the early 1960's. However, it seems a little less fresh, and a little less varied--less inspired, somehow, than the first book.

That's not to say it wasn't a fun read. I was six years old in 1961 and my very earliest memories of the game I have loved all my life date back to that season, though the Reds--Brosnan's team--were not on the radar of this fledgling American League fan. By modern standards, this is not at all a "tell-all" book, but still there are some surprises. Brosnan has eliminated the casual racism of the earlier book, and even taken obvious effort to counter that, here. We get a much more human depiction of the Latin players in particular. I was genuinely shocked by the open discussion of greenies, the amphetamines popular among players of the era, which Brosnan refers to as "bombers." I knew about greenies, but never expected the workaday casualness in mentioning them. Almost two decades later another pitcher named Bill "Spaceman" Lee would catch all kinds of flak from league and club bigwigs for acknowledging his marijuana use. As far as I know, Brosnan's disclosures caused nary a ripple.

I missed the family stuff from the earlier book. In "Pennant Race" we hear very little about Brosnan's wife, and even less about his kids. Drinking, on the other hand, is constant and heavy. Like the pep pills, I already knew that major league baseball was a drinking culture at the time, but in both books the author seems afloat on a sea of martinis. One wonders how he performed so well, despite the night life. It's been done before, and often, I suppose, but when he describes being barely able to function in a game due to being hungover--following a drinking binge over not being selected to the All Star team--it's disturbing. At least it was to me.

In the latter third of the book particularly, when the pennant race becomes the sole focus, the day to day game descriptions blur together a bit, and grow rather tedious. Somehow, the excitement of a pennant race in an era when there still were pennant races, doesn't come through. Brosnan doesn't describe his team's city, Cincinnati, at all really, and the fans are described mostly as a clueless nuisance or, in the case of female fans or "broads" as he calls them, either hogs or hot. One has to consider the "Mad Men" environment, but still. Once the pennant is won, the book ends, with nothing at all written about the subsequent World Series against the Mantle & Maris led New York Yankees. Maybe the loss in five games would have been a down note to finish up with, but I had hoped for an insider's account of post-season play at a time when baseball was king.

Recommended if you like baseball, especially baseball back in the day, but not recommended as heartily as "The Long Season."

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Letter To Myself

just let the curtain fall in silence
why not approach with less defiance
the one who'd love to see you smile
the one who'd love to see you smile tonight." --Elton John

"Hello darkness my old friend."--Paul Simon

This is a letter to myself
anything I say can and will be used against me--
everybody is a cop.
I will sneak these words
to myself in a paper cup
I have to have them.
When I eat them, they will catch fire.
I will vent them in fantastic concussion--
my molten words roiling on themselves roundly
for a fucking billion years
sustaining nothing.

When I was a child, I talked like a child,
thought like a child, reasoned like a child.
This is a letter to myself
I have to keep remembering how,
and not be destroyed this time.
I have wrapped my heart in words,
stuffed my eyes with them,
my mind,
my intimate places murdered and abandoned.
This is a letter to myself.
I said I wouldn't shake, but I always do.

This is a letter to myself
then, if anyone asks why I am crying,
why I am bashing my brains out against the wall,
why I sing
though I cannot sing
why I sing
though I cannot sing
then I can say it was these letters, and wave them
like a girl on shipboard, departing on an adventure
instead of what I am--
a woman tearing her own throat out with her fingers;
drawing watercolor roses
in drying blood
for no one.

for the weekend mini-challenge.



Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Hymn For Medicated Mermaids

As a child, I was taught to respect
the man on the bus with his hand on my knee.
All the assembled assholes of the western world,
I've been through them

I'm a sweet little bee
with a million stingers.
Go ahead and pat my ass now--
I'll make you feel my pain if it kills me.

Ladies, you almost-friends of mine,
discuss me til your lips fall off. 
This one says this
and that one says that
about my manner and my choices and 
the teeming cosmos of all you think you know but don't.

Today a famous perv got 175 years for exercising his shriveled soul
at the expense of others.
Not enough, but better than business as usual.
us bitches,
us drunks,
us suicides,
gather at the river, lifting our skirts and wading in
just as if it, and we, and our better angels

hadn't already gone on without us.

Image at top: Annie Murphy

Larry Nassar's victims speak out HERE

Monday, January 22, 2018

Book Review : "Cirkus"

CirkusCirkus by Patti Frazee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's difficult to review or rate this book. It took me over two months (!) to slog through the first half, and two days to tear through the second half, which I could not put down. In the first half we meet a band of turn-of-the-20th-century circus performers, including a Gypsy, a fire-eating dwarf and a pair of conjoined twins. Despite their oddness, they never really grabbed me, except by very scattered turns, and even then not for long. None of the characters were sympathetic enough to make me care very much what happened to them, and therein lies the bigger problem--nothing much happened at all. I could not stick with reading for more than a few pages, and never felt drawn to go back to it, though I doggedly pushed on, however slowly. I almost quit several times, not because it was bad, but because it just wasn't good enough.

Then came the second half. Finally, things started moving, secrets are revealed, intrigues are played out, and most of all, the humanness of all these characters bursts forth in all their flawed desire, courage, and failings. If the whole book had been as excellent as the second half, I would have given it 5 stars, but getting through the first half was such a chore, I can't be quite that forgiving. Still, recommended with the warning that it takes foreverrrr to get going. If you can hang in, it pays off.

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Music Box Church Bells

Music box church bells
over river rocks in a week-long dream;
the rosewood resonance still there come the daylight hour
with walnut splines for the curve of that fine aural wheel.

Music box church bells
in the snow-brush fingers of your gloves at sunset fall
with quilted maple and the movement gone melodious 
was religion enough, and that's love...that's all.

for Tree Sisters.

Thank you to The Wood Whisperer for information about making a music box. 


New Garden

My robot fucked the 7-11 chick--
she'd guessed the access code.
Amid disassembled hardware, I located and removed
my emotional investment.

New garden. No succulents. 
I bang the yield in walls with a hammer.
I erect abstract sculpture the neighbors hate.

I go on, exploded,
hating inevitable outcomes
and the rattle of my seed-pod heart. 

A flash 55 for my BFF.

image: from the sci-fi movie "Ex Machina" 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Faith Dentistry

Here at the Church of the Broken Tooth,
we are all feeling nervy.
We have been handed envelopes for tithing,
and our own personal Jesus Action Figures
perfect for use as candles or cudgels.

We do not suffer the loony veteran.
We cannot condone the homosexual.
This is God's will, not ours.
We have rent our garments and need needles
and smaller, oh much smaller camels,
though filthy and willful beasts they be.

We of the Broken Tooth faith community
take to the streets, with placards to protect the unborn,
except, of course, for our Allison
"away at bible camp"
until she returns, in time for Christmas,
her body once again an empty and lesser vessel. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Skull In The Book

The skull in the book asks me what I'm reading.
We both know that he only wants to criticize.

The train rolls on, works looms.
I had hoped to get in a few pages, but no.
The skull in the book won't shut his pie hole.

I tell him it's about a woman
whose husband has a secret;
it's about a girl
who hears voices from her closet,
and it's about a cat
who stays on the stairs in the dark, watching.

The skull in the book scoffs. 
He wants spies and intrigue and sex.
"There is, Skully," I say. 
He frowns.

For a while I describe the scenery to him. 
He hasn't got eyes, but he has curiosity. 
He tells me to kiss him, he's a Prince.
"You wish."

At my stop, I tire of it all,
and discard my book with the skull in it. 
I can hear him, fuming inside the barrel with the coffee cups
and McMuffin wrappers.

I think I won't go to work.
I stand there for a second, stupid and a little afraid,
like a woman who wakes up not knowing where she is,
how she got there, what this strange body is
or why she's inside it, casting about for a clue.

Sunday, January 14, 2018


I am hiding where you can't see
me, down where the roots find 
winding ways and secret water,
daughter of both silence and 
random lightning strike.

I am hiding where you can't touch,
such a stand-offish lonely sort
aboard a black-winged bird
absurd and glorious in her particular 
vernacular of singular songs and caws
jackdaws and crows
know better than a professor at his books.

I am hiding in the red detritus
I might as soon worship as any
many-strictured deity, and yet,
getting it wrong, being found out--
shouting and giving myself away,
saying yes, I really do reduce to
blues in the afternoon sung by
my own traitor voice on these pages like a kiss.

for Fussy Little Forms: Chained Rhyme.


Saturday, January 13, 2018


Danger is everywhere--
at the bottom of a tea cup,
hidden in the fold of a newspaper,
tucked under the curve of your lover's breast.

Go ahead, scream;
it's your perfect right.

Those trapped in nightmares are paralyzed.
"You sustain me," is a sibilant statement,
often sincerely lisped by those with lipstick on their teeth. 

Another Flash 55 for my BFF.  


Friday, January 12, 2018

Floral Arrangement

When time has come for me to rot,
forget forget-me-nots.

Place touch-me-nots upon my grave--
no rose, nor lily, nor daisy;
and dig it far from madding crowd--
the loud, the false, the crazy.

Say few words, if any you must--
and lace them through with laughter
that unrepentant madmen know--
then silence ever after. 

A flash 55 for my BFF's weekly bacchanal. 


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Post Card

Greetings from Goon Island. 
If you feel ugly or are on the run from Sea Hag,
climb into a cannon and have them shoot you here.
You won't have to shave your legs,
and everything is served Florentine.

Greetings from Goon Island.
I must've got brained, I can't recall arriving or why.
I am 8 feet tall,
and tiny gals who would fit in a tea spoon always insist
on standing next to me. 
I am Blue LaGoon, the mumbling nightclub singer
with the flower in her hat.

Doesn't narrow it down much, I know.

Oh baby,
what I do remember is being Eugenia the Jeep,
arriving in a box with a printed message
all the way from India.
"I have magical powers" said my note,
which I had written
while walking through a wall just because I could.

Greetings from Goon Island.
Here, when I try to signal "yes", I just fall on my face. 
When I try to be HERE
and then
I just go in circles until I'm dizzy.

Despite the kindness of the Goons on Goon Island,
I wish you were here. 
Try to find a cannon.
Watch out for Bluto.
Elocution isn't everything, Toots--
try the sailor's semaphore,
head for the horizon,
and I will watch for you by the silent and singular 
light of the stars. 


For "Rhubarb" at Real Toads.

I have chosen "Popeye" (originally Thimble Theater) characters Alice the Goon and Eugene the Jeep, staples of my young childhood. I watched them faithfully on channel 9 out of Windsor, Ontario.

Alice the Goon was an 8 foot tall gender non-specific slave of the Sea Hag, who had threatened to hurt her baby if she didn't obey. We found out she was a girl when Sea Hag finally called her by name, "Alice." Eventually saved by Popeye, in later versions Alice donned a skirt and flowered hat. She only spoke in mumbles. 

Eugene the Jeep was a creature from the 4th dimension, who managed to land himself here. In print, he was discovered in Africa, in cartoons it was India. He was mailed to Popeye in a box, with a note of introduction. Popeye's reaction? "Well, blow me down!" Eugene could walk through walls and jump from location to location in the bat of an eye. Eugene the Jeep didn't speak either, but he shook his head for "no" and bowed down and swished his tail for "yes."  The military vehicle was named for him because it was small and maneuverable. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


A house
by blackbirds.
A window
where a woman stood
after losing her child.
A lawn
once anointed
with lemonade.
A fence 
repaired three times
by the same hands.
A porch
where a deaf dog
slept away his days. 
No car
and a suitcase in the back.
A letter saying

for dverse poetics. photograph by sharon knight.


Monday, January 8, 2018


What's under the dirt
in the garden by the moon-gray shed?
What's under the bloom 
and the petal walls in my head?

Dangerous, it's dangerous
hooker red and high like this.

What's under the beat
in the heart of a summer night?
What's under your skin
where ravens go blackly bright?

Dangerous, it's dangerous
hooker red and high like this.

What's under your smile
curved with fearless faint regret?
What's under our tongues
gone dawn dissolve and yet....

Dangerous, it's dangerous 
hooker red and high like this.

Dangerous, it's dangerous

Sunday, January 7, 2018


Occasionally, one must be cleansed.
Sure, you could wait on a bench at the train station for Jesus to return,
surrounded by clergymen offering judgement and asbestos underwear.
But Jesus,
in white shirt and tie,
running the afternoon shift at Chicken Barn,
would take you aside from your deep fryer duties and tell you--
cleansing should be a private thing,
a personal thing,
not subject to "likes" and "shares" or other public scrutiny. 

Come, get still within yourself.
Lay out the things you'll need:
the towel,
the candles,
the knout and the noise-reducing headphones. 

Concentrate on necessary rituals;
the curly fry placed upon your tongue,
the orange soda in the tiny dixie cup.
Find the kernel of eternity and meaning inside the absurd and the preposterous.
What I'm saying is, look within.

Take the cloth and the sweet-smelling detergent to the tabletops
of your personal dining room.
Prevent disgusting build-up of
and wild profane outbursts.
Stop sleeping with everybody who asks.
Make today a changing day in your life.
Turn off Dr. Phil.  

In the end, there is no "end."
You'll need to repeat this, like lines in a stage play,
but lines that change with each new performance.
Buck up, Bo Peep.
Jesus stands ready with company protocols and his wonderful crooked grin.
His hair is long, he likes the extra crispy sandwich, 
a good joke, women, kindness.
Present the clean crescents of your fingernails to Him.
Approach your duties with pride.
Go home, empty your mind, forget the hectic lunch rush.
Be at peace.
Do it all again tomorrow.

Saturday, January 6, 2018


She's so proud of her jugs, but they're only full of wash water.
Who else would wear diadems and diaphanous gowns to do a load of colors?

She says she gets a weird high down there in the basement,
and tells the future to Pecky, miserable in his cage,
more fascinated with millet than prophecy.
The sun, to him, is a fairy tale;
the rattling furnace is as close to a tree as he'll ever get. 

God, I hate her. She's so nice, and so stupid.
Going through the pockets of her man's jeans, she pulls out a diamond
from among the phone numbers and weed dust.
She sticks it in her eye and starts speaking in tongues. 

For fuck's sake, the cycle's almost done,
her kid is howling upstairs because Thomas the motherfucking Tank Engine ended,
and now I have to pick up her slack while she la-dee-dah's around 
like a brain damaged nymph.
"Snap out of it!" I screech, and she blinks, then frowns,
then flips open the machine.

"When did you buy that?" I ask her. What about your precious jugs?
She waves her hand.
Her one diamond eye sparkles, the other looks vaguely up at the ceiling.
Pecky screams, apropos of nothing.
"Bless your heart," she says. 
The furnace kicks on.
Her dog comes down and circles three times, then shits next to the dryer.
"We're blessed," she adds as she hefts a plastic basket on her hip,
then turns and rises up the basement stairs 
like carbon monoxide inside a party balloon. 

for Camera FLASH! at Toads.

Friday, January 5, 2018


I told Pumpkin
about your heart--
how it couldn't be broadcast, even locally.
Is fucking finding? No.
My life, yours, Pumpkin's,
are like collars fitted to only one neck. 
Right, girl?

Pumpkin is poemless, unlike me.
For her, shit is shit;
she's not sentimental.
She finds dead hearts, shakes them apart--
comes home looking pleased. 

A flash 55 for my BFF.

Thursday, January 4, 2018


I remember those times--
the August bird on the hollyhock,
the one-eyed landlord,
the angels reposed between the cobblestones--
when we had everything and wanted nothing
except a ticket out.

What else would we have done, in the City of a Hundred Spires,
but sing as if every lamp post were a tall stem,
and we the warblers in diklos and babushkas,
hearts as tiny and strong as the astronomical clock?
"New York!" was all that fell from other lips in moments between notes,
though none of us had ever been.
Only you and I still loved the dumpling and the sugar cake. 

In those days, we heard the horse hoof, the wagon wheel,
the ships with their deep bass calls that shook the docks. 
And you, my double and my simple bloom,
the favorite soprano among us all,
loved to watch them, loving the motion they made,
while all the time staying stock-still,
holding your breath--and my hand.

I remember all my family's things wrapped in patterned cloth,
the Orthodox cross above our church when I saw it for the last time,
in early winter, with only sparrows on the steps, and no music.
My father had our ticket in his coat pocket
and my mother silent at his side.
For many years, in Chicago, we made pastries and pies
for strangers, and in time
all the children spoke English and sang only before ballgames,
eating hot dogs and forgetting.

They call me Ba-boo-shka, and smile.
"She never left the Old Country," they say, but how could I?
I once licked crumbs of sugar cake slowly from your soft lips
as you stayed still and the whole world shifted. 
How could I ever love Chee-ca-go, having once, in warm summer,
loved you? Tell me that, little songbird.

babushka--a head scarf. Also, an old woman or grandmother.

diklo--a head scarf denoting a married woman

The City of a Hundred Spires--Prague

the poster--by Alphonse Mucha. It refers to the Moravian Teacher's Choir, 1911.

for Fireblossom Friday: That's the Ticket.


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Because A Thing Is Not Real

Jus because a thing is snot real is no reason
to toss Baby out wit bath water, rye?
What snot got fins
my have wings, and looka you wit boph feet in lead boots.

Am I not serious jus cus
I fye sunflower in either han when I wan?
Can feel stem, face, yello starburss unda my touch,
sun hot on my skin,
and looka you wit all da fax, cand feel a thing
Who got tye fo dah?

Got lotsa say, in words my own chose seff, 
dun mean ain't got the Queen's English at my disposal dependin
wut planet spin unda me at any gibbon moment, babe.