It was getting late. Way too late to play ball,

we should have quit half an hour ago.


In that innocent age our parents were not truly

worried, they were angry because we had broken

the first commandment: Be home by suppertime.


Batters could barely make out the pitches against a

dying western glow. Fielders couldn’t judge pop ups,

much less track a liner streaking toward a crew cut

thirteen-year-old distracted by something that was

waiting for him just around the corner of his life.


We were down to four a side--a pitcher,

two in the infield, one in the outfield.

Own side catches, pitcher’s hands

and right-of-second out.


Then David takes off, leaving us four to three.

Jimmy yells “Invisible second baseman!”

Ricky yells back “Not with you cheaters!” 


An invisible runner runs. An invisible fielder does

whatever the loudest voice in the game says he did.


Greg picks up his glove, starts to leave.

Someone says “We gotta finish this game.

Invisible man playing second, grabs anything

within three feet of the base. Call ‘em right.”


As if we could see to call our own names.


No light but the spill from a house's single lit window

and a couple of street lamps whitening bits of the empty

parking lot next to the field like patches of frost in August.


And now there's an invisible man on the field.

Hard to say where he is, which ones he’ll catch,

which ones he won't. Whose side he’s playing on.


Mike’s on first. He takes a pretty good leadoff,

starts sprinting for second even before the pitch.

A thunk and we all stop breathing.

A scream and Tom the fastest runs

    to the house that has a light on.

A siren, an ambulance, quick

    but too late.



Six walk home along leafy streets,

boy sweat drying cold on our skin

as crickets chirp end of summer.


We pass TV-flickered windows,

murmuring porches, parched lawns

comforted by hissing sprinklers.

At every corner an invisible

man waits to cut us down.


Before high school ends

one of us will die going

fast in his new used car.


Not much later another dies

losing a war, then a third by

his own hand for a sorrow

known to none.


We survivors can't win but want

to stay in the game anyway.


To stay in the game never called

unless for a darkness as deep

as the sunset that night we

learned its brutal rules.


Everyone plays, nobody wins, and

the last out is always your own.

    

Rules of the Game

William de Kypia