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Steve Klepetar

The Negro Leagues: A Praise Song

Song in the wind, a Kansas City wind rising
in shadow, snappin' at dust like Satchel's curve,
hitter dazed on his heels, or a streaking blur
along the river, Cool Papa Bell slidin' into second base.
Listen to the clean song struggling behind forbidden lines,
rising like Bill Foster's fastball or a Josh Gibson blast
disappearing in a thousand shirtsleeves and white
dresses, bleachers on a steamy Pittsburgh night.
Hear the song of young men, see them in old photographs
lean and smiling, eager with joy of leather and wood,
white lime on grass, dust popping from the bases,
hot summer wind in every city from Houston to New York,
Harlem to Mobile, beautiful and strong.

And free, at least in the game's sweet possibilities,
in opposition of muscle, heart and will,
in true equality of guts and mind and skill.
See them crowded behind the color line, see them in shadow,
cheer now as they emerge into light—
  Judy Johnson and Willie "El Diablio" Wells,
    Oscar Charleston and Rube Foster,
      Buck Leonard and Buck O'Neil—
let all their names become faces, and, prophetic as comets,
fitting as the night game lights or brilliant patterns in the stars,
write their numbers and their fame, and let their faces
blaze across the sky!

©2008 by Steve Klepetar

Steve Klepetar teaches literature and writing at Saint Cloud State University in Minnesota. His work has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Web.

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