Roberto Clemente kicked my ass last night.
He came out of the darkness like a train whistle
with his 21 Pittsburgh jersey tucked in
and laid me out with a left hook.
I fell to the grass and screamed,
What’s your problem, Roberto?
Couldn’t sleep, he said.
Get a motel.
He said, My plane crashed. I am dead.
He said, I come from Carolina, Puerto Rico.
So, what’s the problem?
He said, My name is Roberto.
I have three sons and three thousand base hits.
My name is Roberto Clemente.
And when his plane took off from San Juan,
overloaded with bananas and gauze
for the earthquake victims of Managua,
it was New Year’s Eve
and his eyes were bloodshot bullets
under the canopy of the Atlantic Ocean.
When the sharks got their teeth into him,
the manatees and sting rays,
the vapor trail of his gait around second base
brushed back the wind.
Ten hours later my father woke me to say, El Padré, Roberto,
no longer swings for the fences.
I was seven.
I have been seven ever since.
Copyright © 2020 Matthew Lippman
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.