There was a smear of dirt across your forehead
from trying to wipe away the sweat.
Under a brown cap your eyes wide and watery,
eyes that come from always taking second place
and wearing hand-me-downs to school.
You wore exhaustion like an old wool coat
in the rolling prairie heat of the ballpark,
throwing strikes by instinct in the ninth.
And then one pitch got away, right down the pipe,
not sliding the way you wanted. Remember?
It came back the same way, a line drive blown up
like a red-laced leather balloon, growing to the size of a melon
before you ducked, the go-ahead run scoring easily.
I wanted to be there in the dugout, right behind you.
I watched you fall apart, the sobs pounding through your body
like hailstones through paper.
I tried to say, "You've gotta bat now. Get a hit! You can do it!"—
but nothing came out;
the hand that choked your heart like a vise has a twin.
You batted clean-up, two out, tying run at first.
I didn't know what would happen.
"Burn it in! She can't hit the high ones!"
You had to get two strikes, just like in the movies;
everything coming down to the last pitch.
That was when I finally saw you: the same little girl
whose sister got the flute while she got the trombone. B plus.
Hurt, betrayed, exhausted, dazed, presented with another last chance.
It was high and you hit it into the hole in right center field.
An RBI triple. I smiled and cleared the tears from my face,
the guy on my right looking at me as if I'd lost my marbles.
And then you rounded third. Why in the world did you do it?
You were safe at third—safe. The throw to home beat you easily;
the catcher stood in front of the plate, immovable as a planet from its orbit.
But your eyes! They were not the eyes of a quiet kid sister.
I saw eyes that were hard and burned with the fury and pain
of a lifetime of second best.
Of trying. Of wanting. Wanting.
You hit her as if reaching home would be your only chance at salvation,
like your whole life was riding on that one moment.
You were desperate, but you were alive. I saw you again
in that moment; again you surprised me.
Her glove hand flew back as she landed backside in the dirt
and the ball rolled out of her mitt
with the soft gesture of a lady offering her hand.
I was wild at your joy; you were so happy and beautiful.
I laughed and cheered with the crowd as they carried you off the field,
everyone in that place chanting your name in unison.
The bitterness and fury fall as easily as the sun,
slipping beneath the line of the horizon without ever making a sound.
And you rise up, the moon, silver and full.
You rise up to the zenith and you stand under no one's shadow.