Musial

George Bilgere Click to read more...

George Bilgere teaches at John Carroll University in Ohio.  His books include Haywire, which received the May Swenson Award in 2006 and The White Museum, which Autumn House Press published in 2010.  In 2009 he received a Pushcart Prize.

My father once sold a Chevy,
to Stan Musial, the story goes,
back in the fifties,
when the most coveted object
in the universe of third grade
was a Stan the Man baseball card.

No St. Louis honkytonk
or riverfront jazz club
could be more musical
than those three syllables
rising from the tongue of Jack Buck
in the dark mouths
of garages on our street,

where men like my father
stood in their shirt-sleeved exile,
cigarette in one hand, scotch
in the other, radio rising
and ebbing with the Cards.

If Jack Buck were to call
my father’s drinking that summer,
he would have said
he was swinging for the bleachers.
He was on a torrid pace.
In any case, the dealership was failing,
the marriage a heap of ash.

And knowing my father, I doubt
if the story is true,
although I love to imagine
that big, hayseed smile
flashing in the showroom, salesmen
and mechanics looking on
from their nosebleed seats at the edge
of history, as my dark-suited dad
handed the keys to the Man,

and for an instant each man there
knew himself a part of something
suddenly immense,

as when,
in the old myths, a bored god
dresses up like one of us, and falls
through a thunderhead
to shock us from our daydream drabness
with heaven’s dazzle and razzmatazz.

Discussion

One Response to Musial

  1. Tim McAleenan Jr. says:

    I think I can easily say that this is my favorite piece of writing I have ever read on the Shenandoah website. Being from St. Louis, I rapidly established a strong connection with this poem. While some kids learned about the Constitution and what James Madison brought to democracy, I was memorizing the back of my Stan The Man baseball card that denoted The Man’s .331 career batting average, 475 home runs, and 3,630 hits (1,815 at home and 1,815 on the road–the perfect symbolism of a balanced player).

    I love, love, love this poem. It captures the essence of St. Louis beautifully. Everything revolves around Cardinals baseball, period. Summer days were spent listening to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon on KMOX (and Shannon still calls games to this day). Stan The Man has a reputation as the most accessibly superstar of all time, and this story has a particularly realistic element to it. Stan The Man would sign autographs for anyone hours after a game, and despite his ailing health, he still signs a prodigious amount of autographs to this day.

    Most die-hard baseball fans in St. Louis invariably link their personal life to Cardinals legend in some way, and this story captures that fantastically. Stan The Man is the god that regularly joins the company of us mortals, and I think the sale of a car presents a fantastic framing device for telling this story.

    Before the days of million dollar baseball salaries, it was not unusual for a baseball superstar to work at Sears, the local grocery store, or a nearby farm during the winter season, and this added a level of accessibility (the linking of superstars to the average Joe) that no longer exists today. The framing device of the car sale captures this very well–everyone needs to buy and sell a car, and although most athletes buy new cars today–at the time, it seems perfectly reasonable that a car sale could provide a moment for a hero to interact with a fan.

    One thing that I think is funny about this dichotomy is how it affects both parties going forward–when I met Bruce Springsteen in 2008, it was a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life. For The Boss, there’s not a chance he remembered me an hour later. It’s mind-boggling to think abou this disparity in how a very simple interaction can have such differing effects on the parties going after the event. This poem does a great job of unpacking such an event by calling to mind this swirl of emotions that naturally gets called to mind.

    The baseball imagery in the story is equally fantastic. Talking about the coveted Musial baseball card, the notion of Jack Buck saying the father was “swinging for the bleachers” with his drinking, etc. all add clever conceits that serve as the icing on the cake in this fantastic poem.

    George Bilgere is a great poet who captures the intersection of personal identity with the community identity of the St. Louis Cardinals in an excellent fashion, and I tip my hat off to him for it.

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