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“The Pick of Pikestaff” Archive
Items selected from The Pikestaff Forum
   and The Pikestaff Review

J. W. Rivers

from The Pikestaff Review #1 (1979)


Slow-pitch is for sissies,
you find, when you show off
your sixteen inch softball
and your friends split their seams.
The Pros play hardball:
go to Wrigley Field or Comiskey,
see if you ever see a softball.
Do you ever see softballers
on bubblegum cards?
Smoke Camels on billboards?
Shave with Gillettes?
You find after summers, years,
of slow-pitch, it ruins your eye,
arm, reflexes, and all the rest.
You think of scraped knuckles and knees,
raw shins, the bottle cap in your neck
that time you slid into second,
sun and dust in your eyes,
flung bats, popsicle stick caps,
bricks or branches for bases,
and you pack your birthday ball
into its box, thinking how
you’ve wasted eye, arm, reflexes,
summers, years, and all the rest.

© J. W. Rivers

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from The Pikestaff Forum #4 (1982)

The Sergeant with His Feet Cut Off
    (After a Story by Rafael F. Muños)

Peasants from Puebla
in white pajamas
capture my platoon,
mutilate my captain,
turn me loose after questioning.

The trail behind me
is full of puddles,
my legs taper
into sapodilla plums.

My feet hurt.
They grow,
they break out of my sandals,
they swim on the trail behind me.

They run up my legs
into my body,
they kick wildly in my chest.

© J. W. Rivers


from The Pikestaff Forum #4 (1982)

(Note: in the following two poems, the name Nagy
   is to be pronounced as a monosyllable,
nahzh, the
gy having the sound of the s in measure or the
z in azure. — Ed.)

Esterházy in the Hospital

    Esterházy’s Myelogram, Mercy Hospital,
    Charlotte, North Carolina, 1 P.M.,
    February 27, 1980
   You’re going to feel a mosquito bite,
   the neurosurgeon says,
   and all the electric eels in the world
   galvanize my back.
   Something cold and damp revives me;
   a frog is squatting on my head.
   The surgeon’s consulting
   with someone I recognize . . .
   that radiologist with comblike mustache
   looks like Sándor Nagy.
   Who’s that other doctor? I ask the orderly
   as he wheels me back to my room.
   Him? That’s Doctor Miller,
   been here fifteen years.
   And the frog?
   The orderly stares at me.


   Laminectomy, 8 A.M., February 29

   The nurse is a mesomorph with hairy hands
   that work a needle into my vein.
   The operation will last about two hours,
   she intones, I’m going to count down from ten.
   I notice a few hairs
   sticking through her surgical mask.
   Something damp huddles at my side.


   Sándor Nagy Visits Esterházy in His Private
   Room, 10 P.M., March 2

   He materializes at the foot of my bed
   in a phosphorescent flash,
   brings apricot liqueur and news
   from Moscow and Prague.
   You can’t stand there naked, I tell him,
   so he moves to one side, pours brandy
   into glasses that appear in his hand.
   Are you hungry? he says, spreading caviar
   on Swedish rye. They gave me
   a graham cracker and milk,
   I reply, and he looks sick. But recovers.
   A nurse comes in
   followed by Sándor’s frog,
   stands at my side until I swallow
   six pills; Sándor blends into the color TV
   waiting for her to leave.
   Want some bone marrow? I got it from the lab.
   It used to be your favorite snack, he says,
   sprinkling paprika. No, I say,
   You’ve got to go, it’s past visiting hours.
   The nurse screams in the hall.
   Sándor shrugs, slips into a fur coat:
   It’s snowing in Budapest, he says.


   The Return of Nagy, 10 A.M., March 3

   He’s making rounds
   in scrub suit and surgical mask.
   I thought you were in Budapest,
   I thought you left last night.
   He lifts the mask, uses my TV
   for a mirror, clips his nose hair.
   A smell of Lake Balaton
   invades the air; Sasha the frog
   leaps from the bathroom,
   corrects course in mid-flight,
   plops down on my pillow.
   Agh, says Sándor.
   Agh, Sasha replies.
   Esterházy my friend,
   you do not want us here? Then we go.
   And they leave.


   The Priest Arrives, 10:15 A.M., March 3

   In walks Father O’Malley
   with his plastic clip-on Roman collar.
   Good morning, how’re you feeling?
   Do you want to receive communion?
   Good morning, father, I’m fine;
   yes, I’d like communion today,
   some funny things have been going on.
   We say the Lord’s prayer together
   and he holds the wafer out to me,
   lightly sprinkled with paprika.

   © J. W. Rivers

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Esterházy on Mount Everest — May 25, 1953

The Sherpa guides have given up.
I see them far below around a fire
eating imported rhinoceros meat, hear them
slurp their tea with yak butter.
After a month of climbing
they refuse to come farther
because of one pawmark in the snow. But I,
who’ve crossed the Hindu Kush many times
alone, continue.
I’ve no fear of the Yeti.

My camp is five hundred
feet from the top, four days in advance
of Hillary and his guide. Those two
are waiting for morning.
I launch my final assault
It’s snowing
as I start up the sheer wall. The moon,
a dimpled peasant woman who wears no babushka,
is blotted out. I arrive after midnight.

says the voice of Sándor Nagy.
His little Russian frog Sasha
hops on my frozen beard and kisses me.
Want a cup of Spanish chocolate?
Or do you prefer hot borscht?

© J. W. Rivers

   (The “Everest” poem has appeared previously in a souvenir
   chapbook published by Spoon River Poetry Press celebrating the
   Illinois Writers Incorporated Conference held in 1980 at
   Bradley University, Peoria, Ill.)

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