When I was a child, my father used to read us poems from a wonderful poetry anthology called Some Haystacks Don’t Even Have Any Needle, edited by Stephen Dunning. Two of the poems were about quarterbacks, which seems appropriate for this Super Bowl week given that the top two quarterbacks in football will be playing. I therefore contacted my father and he sent them to me.
“The Passer,” by George Abbe, is a hymn to the beauty of the forward pass. I love the image of the quarterback seeing his targets emerge “like quail above a wheat field’s golden lake,” which can invoke Indiana’s open fields. The poem also captures the poise of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees and the breathtaking accuracy of their throws. The receiver most like a smooth plane has got to be Reggie Wayne. Here’s the poem:
“The Passer,” by George Abbe
Dropping back with the ball ripe in my palm
grained and firm as the flesh of a living charm,
I taper and coil myself down, raise arm to fake,
running a little, seeing my targets emerge
like quail above a wheat field’s golden lake.
And as I run and weigh, measure and test,
the light kindles on helmets, the angry leap;
but secretly, coolly, as though stretching a hand to his chest,
I lay the ball in the arms of my planing end,
as true as metal, as deftly as surgeon’s wrist.
The other poem, Dabney Stuart’s “Ties,” has its own mystical feel as it captures the memories of high school football. The poem seems to be about a mother and father listening to their son play football on the radio. But I think it is really about the son thinking back to his high school days, which now seem infused with magic. Time has stripped away the details—there is a lot of fading in this poem—and his parents are kind of there, kind of not. But that just means that the pass itself, the memory, stands out all the more, suspended in the brilliant air forever. A tie to the past. Here it is:
“Ties,” by Dabney Stuart
When I faded back to pass
Late in the game, as one
Who has been away some time
Fades back into memory,
My father, who had been nodding
At home by the radio,
Would wake, asking
My mother, who had not
Been listening, “What’s the score?”
And she would answer, “Tied”,
While the pass I threw
Hung high in the brilliant air
Beneath the dark, like a star.
This poem brings back a vivid memory of my own, although this one involves baseball and my oldest son. I remember Justin hitting a game-tying double in the final inning of a game at the junior level (13-year-olds) and of the ball inscribing a parabola through the night air. Justin died ten years ago in a drowning accident, but I still see that ball hanging in the lights. Like a star.
Note: In the version of George Abbe’s poem that appears in Some Haystacks Don’t Even Have Any Needles, the editor has cut the middle section of the poem (presumably with the permission of the author). I actually think this improves the poem, but if you want to see it in its entirety you can go here.