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Arthur Plotnik

Philip Roth Bats Me In:
An Iowa Writers Workshop Memoir

When I think of Iowa City, I think of
one of those spring Saturday mornings
when we teamed up for a softball game:

unfledged fiction writers and our tutor,
twenty-something Philip Roth, against
lanky Donald Justice and his gang of poets.

Keenly I recall the baseball-loving Roth
at bat, his five-o’clock shadow from Friday
dark as Iowa loam, a classic stance, dug in,
a scowl for the pitcher -- when, sighting me

at second base, he pauses, shades his eyes
as if to read a hit-and-run sign or the words
flashing across my mug since wintertime:

    Young Man Consumed
     by Certainty of Death

I’d told a shrink, “Day and night I shiver
over thoughts of dying.” He’d counseled me,
“Such fears mask others. In time, we sort ‘em out.”

And I’d had “others”: uncertainties of writing,
making grades, and matrimony entered too soon.
But when icy pinks and yellows streaked the sky,
I read death in every cloud, crow, and skeletal tree.

The mud-stained softball spinning Rothward
draws my attention from the end of all flesh,
much as the ball draws the bat’s fury and
feels itself smacked beyond the versifying fielders.

I spring toward third, toward home; stomp
the plate and await my deliverer’s handshake;

and in his clasp I feel a touch so charged
as to still a young man’s angst that moment,
maybe even -- who can prove otherwise? --

spark the sorting out: the lifelong shuffling
of mortality to the bottom of the lineup,
to abide there while we revel in our seasons.

Often these days the writing spirit wanes
and I’m no more likely to turn a fine phrase
than drop such tired ones as “life’s late innings.”

But still it puts a hop in my soul to recall
this pressing of the palms with Philip Roth;
not to mention how, one Saturday morning,
we fiction writers whomped the pesky bards.

©2007 by Arthur Plotnik

Arthur Plotnik is known for the poetic touch in such books as Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style, The Elements of Expression, The Elements of Authorship, and The Urban Tree Book. A contributing editor for The Writer magazine, he lives in Chicago. For more information see his Web site.

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