Introducing Mike from Alaska (and Haverhill)

I am introducing a new writer to our blog readers. He’s not new to writing, but we haven’t featured his work here before. I met Mike McCormick through Tom Sexton, one of our regular far-flung contributors who is a mutual friend. That would be Tom Sexton, the poet and retired professor of English who can be found in Alaska or Maine these days. Tom Sexton of the Lowell High School Hall of Fame and past Poet Laureate of Alaska with about a dozen books to his name. When Mike and I met for lunch at the Cracker Barrel in Tewksbury (a little bit of Southern Indiana on Route 133), we found a dozen contact points, from baseball and Jack Kerouac to John Sebastian, the Merrimack River, and poetry. He’s a Kinks freak going way back to a performance he went to in high school years. And did he tell me he saw the Lovin’ Spoonful at Central Catholic High School in Lawrence around the same time? I wasn’t taking notes, so I could be wrong on that one. I hope he sends us more writing about his days in the Merrimack Valley. And an occasional observation about Alaska, the way Tom Sexton does. 

Mike grew up in Haverhill’s Acre neighborhood in the 1960s. His parents and grandparents worked in Haverhill factories through much of the 20th century. Since the mid-1970s, he has lived and worked in Alaska as an educator, concert promoter, and writer. Mike has worked with some of the biggest names in folk music that hail from his region or tour through the Northwest and into Alaska. He’s excited about fellow promoter Chris Porter’s plan for an ambitious music festival in Lowell. I’m sure our blog readers will be hearing more about this is coming months. Mike sent me a batch of poems and a couple of longer prose pieces. Memorial Day Weekend being a great baseball time, I thought this selection would be good. Marie Sweeney says there is always a Lowell connection, so note that Mike’s mention of George Herman Ruth reminds us that one of The Babe’s mentors when he was growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, was a Xaverian Brother who later taught at Keith Academy Catholic High School of young men, in the former City Jail on Thorndike Street that now has residences just next to Sal Lupoli’s Thorndike Exchange development (former Comfort Furniture and before that Hood factory for medicines). — PM 

Three Poems by Mike McCormick

 At Age Seven, I Learn the Legend

Sitting with my father

in the rickety wood grandstands

at a high school game,

I watched twilight’s shadow flood infield grass,

flow past the centerfielder,

and climb the concrete bleachers

over six hundred feet away.

 

Noticing my gaze, Dad said,

“See where the shadow stops

ten rows up the stadium steps?

Babe Ruth hit one

that landed out there

when he came through

on a barnstorming team.”

 

My eyes widened

as I imagined

the flight of a ball

sailing that distance.

 

Dad glared ahead,

rubbed his silver-stubbed chin

and pulled a cigarette

from the pack

in his shirt pocket.

 

“He was the lout who ruined the game.

Before him

players

could field

and bunt

and steal

a base.

But by the time he was through

all anyone could do

was stand around

and wait

for homers.”

Ballgame: Auke Bay, Alaska

There’s no field

amongst the hemlock and spruce

at the summer camp

 

so the kids play ball

in a pot-holed parking lot.

 

A pile of sweaters,

a couple of rocks,

one crushed beer can,

and a broken branch

stake the corners

of a diamond.

 

No bat but a battered tennis racquet,

no gloves needed

to handle the white plastic ball.

 

Outfielders dodge parked pickups,

chasing pop flies,

and there’s yelling,

and screaming and laughter

 

lots of laughter

 

riding every hit.

 

Looking back

to the soft, close-cropped lawns

where we practiced summer games,

I start to feel sorry for these kids

 

Then there’s yelling

and screaming and laughter

 

lots of laughter

 

another hit–

 

a black-haired girl,

perhaps ten,

races ‘round second

while an eagle

with a wing span

three times the length

of a big-league bat

glides smooth as the Yankee Clipper

just twenty feet overhead

 

And the kids

 

paying the bird as much mind

as DiMaggio paid pigeons

keep running,

keep yelling,

 

keep laughing.

Fenway Park

Sidewalk vendors shouting

“Peanuts”

in Kenmore Square

 

the smell of sausage, pretzels

 

souvenir racks spilling over

with hats, bats, and pennants

 

the crowd streaming towards the ballpark

from subways, buses, and cars

 

the art-deco Citgo sign still suspended overhead,

the infamous wall

(so close to home plate that even you could hit it

with a fly ball)

 

already the lights are on,

and soon the nighthawks will whirl

in the sky

 

the press of people funneling through the gates

 

finally in

 

pick up the program and pencil

for keeping score,

stop for a Fenway frank and beer

 

when you walk through the tunnel

into a world

of spotlight-charged green

 

the players are close enough

to hear your shouts

 

and the grass looks so lush

you want to roll in it.

 

Studying the left field wall

(where the score of the game is still

put up by hand),

you listen to “live” organ playing

just like in the days

of Speaker, Foxx, Williams, Yaz,

and even Ruth

 

Fathers sit with sons

who sit with daughters

 

Generations passing tradition and legend

down through the New England summer night

 

The park’s full, the team’s in the race

 

Fenway, the game, the history

 

How they live on

-Mike McCormick

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