On my birthday, of all days, I feel the absence of my friends–those souls scattered across the world like the no longer tightly packed leaves of my heart. A long time ago I wrote a poem about them, and so heading to the day, here it is.

Texas

In the evening, between the blur of work
And the final call of slumber
We wear red hats.
We sit on the bench. We take
the field. We stretch into position.
We wear red hats.
The opposition—such as it is—wears
hats of blue, black, or even green.
We wear red hats.
This goes on. Balls are thrown.
We catch. We hit. We sit,
and wait for chance to take a hand.
We wear red hats.
The night provides possibilities.
What did we do all day?
Who knows? We cancelled checks.
We bought farms. We wiped spit
from the trumpeter’s lip. We organized
a trip to the land of hats, where we found what?
Robes of white? Wooden shoes? Electricity? Vision?
Yes, yes, yes, & yes again. And
red hats in sizes to fit our various heads.

The world is composed of cowhide & ash.
We wear red hats.
The world is composed of teletype & ink.
We wear red hats.
The world hurtles forth, two seamed & sinking.
We wear red hats.

You go home early. We play on
in our red hats.
Each side takes a turn. The game
continues hours into night.
The night waits for days, weeks—
there’s ice in the stands.
We wear red hats. We can’t stop.
The opposition languishes. We give them
red hats. What cheers apply?
GO RED HATS! DEVASTATE THE GAME!
ANNIHILATE DAY! PLAY MORE!
WEAR RED HATS!

Grass grows around our ankles,
tickling our knees, topped with red hats.
The ground is a mystery.
The umpires resort to rules.
How many red hats to a side? Which one
of you is the pitcher? Should the manager
wear a red hat? Arguments ensue.
“Stop being so shrill,” he says. “This isn’t
opera. Break into bloom.”

The roses wear red hats.
Coffee and Coke wear red hats.
Garibaldi wears a red hat.
Eisenhower and Eichmann wear red hats.
Red-hatted love takes red-hatted hate
in a ten-minute ballet called “The Red Hat.”
The red-hatted director of the planetarium
puts on a show of red-hatted stars
and the ancient constellation “Red Hat Hercules.”
Borofsky’s famous lost painting “Jesus,
Mary & Joseph in Red Hats” is traded at auction
for a box of rare Etruscan red hats.

What good will it do to turn the other way
when men in red hats greet you at every base,
slap you on the back and wish you, “Good Luck”?
The world isn’t about knuckleball or double play.
The world isn’t about morning glory or ceramic tile.
The world isn’t about to fall into our outstretched mitt—
Though, wouldn’t that be nice? Miteinander befallen.
The world isn’t about red hats or anything else.
The world slides away out of the zone
leaving us hitless. Struck out.

Cannibals wait in the stands
threatening us with dinner and midnight snacks.
They wear no hats!
We wear red hats!
We were victorious long before your sons became daughters.
Our chances look good: “80/20,”
the team doctor prognotes.
“Wait!” he says, taking off his hat,
“I mean 20/80.” Then chases the batboy
across the field, yelling, “Lunch!”
Should we take off our hats? Join
the cannibal doctor in ritual feast?
Or should we play?
“PLAY!” shouts the team, pulling their hats
tight around their ears.
“PLAY!” shout the cannibals, who take
red hats from back pockets.

I wish you would wear a red hat.
We could give up winter together,
assemble our nine, and be
World Red Hat Champions.
No one, not even Nolan,
can put us down in order.
In your ear? In your ear!
The rally is afoot!
Hits come like fireflies. Runs
torrent into morning.
All day the day begins again.
We wear red hats.