How A White Kid From South Jersey, Born Too Late To See Him Play, Comes To Love Jackie Robinson

How A White Kid From South Jersey, Born Too Late To See Him Play, Comes To Love Jackie Robinson

by Frank Van Zant

I. Philadelphia

 

I am connected to Jackie Robinson

through this unbrotherly city

happy friendly Philly

from which we both

escaped.

 

II. Misodelphia, 1968

 

Nothing Robinson heard

in 1947

from Ben WhiteSheet Chapman & Gang

was much different

from what I remember hearing

that night

and so many countless times

 

when I was seven and going

with my neighbor friends and their dad

to my first game at the ballpark

Old Connie Mack Stadium

on our way through car-lined city streets

seeing brown-skinned people

kids touching car fenders

roll up your windows, they’re out in force tonight

 

 

III. South Jersey, 1970

 

Gertrude Cunningham, 4th Grade Teacher,

at Mary Roberts Elementary School

lone black woman in that simmering suburbia

those Pine White Barrens

 

accomplished something robinsonesque

 

to have inspired Freddie Floyd (believe it! Freddie Floyd!)

who ran outraged, in tears, shouting Mrs Cunningham,

Mrs Cunningham, look! On the map of Africa,

they printed something terrible; look right there,

they call that country N – I – G – E – R!

 

She laughed a bit at his misreading but she

was proud of him for his caring and protest.

 

IV. Willie Montanez, 1971

 

Crusader or not, Guillermo,

glove flipping, bucket stepping

Willie The Phillie

became my inadvertant Jackie Robinson

 

when I was modeling his batting style

 

yelling Willie Mon-tan-yez drives one deep

 

when one white kid laughed at me

for the kind of person I was emulating:

the way Willie didn’t suit him

 

and an older white kid–

insulted, fiery, righteous–

punched that budding racist in the face.

 

It was a learning time

on those all-white but dividing playgrounds

 

 

V. Emmett Ashford Was My Butch Henline *

Anchorage, Alaska 1982

 

I was the only white guy on the field for my team when

 

I met Emmett Ashford on the shouting end

of a close play at second,

my tag on the runner’s foot

in front of the bag

but Emmett’s arms stretched wide,

flashy and major league and incorrect

 

so I said “you blew that one, blue, c’mon

umps have to hustle too”

so he said to the 2B man “obviously,

he doesn’t know who I am, better tell him”

so I said “well I know you blew that call”

 

and the 2B man told me shut the hell up

before you blow the game

you were right but now you’re wrong

 

I know today what a jerk I was,

arguing with Emmett Ashford,

Emmett Ashford!

and I knew enough then to apologize

 

and the great thing I felt then

for the first time in my life

through the racists I’ve known, the opportunities I’ve had

on that ballfield, that equalizer of people,

I was just another guy

the 2B man was just another guy

Emmett Ashford was just another ex-major-leaguer-status guy

we were all just another guy

playing ball

loving that fight to win.

 

*from JR’s chapter, “Just Another Guy”

 

 

VI. Reading I Never Had It Made, 1997

 

It wasn’t all in his dancing off third,

not in his crabclaw running,

his “football shoulders”

his intimidating temper

 

It was after his career, THERE, page 282,

“being real isn’t qualified by skin color

but by character”

 

Because more should be said of

Jackie Robinson as social philosopher

who thought ahead of his time

who might have had the urge to hate

a random Anglo

but would not condemn one

for his whiteness

 

who had the grace to assess

a person’s character

by that person’s character,

the actual thing

 

making respect

respectable,

& brotherly love

Van Zant has taught near-dropouts for 14 years and has written many other poems related to students in his alternative school–white, black and Hispanic (dysfunctionality knows no racial boundaries).


Copyright © 2000 Frank Van Zant. All rights reserved. {jos_sb_discuss:9}

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