The masters (golf poetry)

Listening this year from Paris via BBC Radio 5 Live (an acquired taste), I got the impression that this year’s Masters golf tournament was one of the duller in that event’s long history. But it did push me to finally complete a poem begun after a more exciting Masters a few years ago.

I must stress that the attempt has not been to write history but, rather, sports poetry. Montaigbakhtinian includes a few of my other efforts in this field, which Earnest Lawrence Thayer’s 1888 Casey at the Bat has long, and deservedly, dominated.

I apologize for the lack of non-English versions in today’s post, but hope soon to have another trilingual offering.

The masters

After John McLaughlin, watercolor by William Eaton, 2020The final day, the back nine,
Your shots, no surprise, were best.
All solidly planned and executed,
Balls stopping or rolling just right.
A few more holes and they would be yours:
The kisses and trophy, the jacket and check.

But you could feel another man
In the pairing just ahead.
A friend of sorts, as most friends are,
And long favored by the crowds,
Yet aging now and often hurt,
By desires and women misled.

The galleries, celebrity near,
The thrill, the mouths, the roars!
Scurrying cameras, folding chairs,
And the TV gurus a-whisper:
Now, this day, our warrior gray,
For us all mortality will scorn!

You felt your father’s steady hand
Come to rest on your shoulder:
“You’ve won before, you’ll win again.”
“Let others enjoy the sun”:
You heard again your mother.
“Why not let . . . ” A man much older?

One lovely green as ever lay
Above slope and tongue of water,
And thus this last round’s challenge was:
Avoid, like hell, the creek!
Amid the din, did your mind,
With thoughts of this other, falter?

Somehow, anyhow, your ball was in,
And you – all wet – second place.
Hearing the happiness, you could only smile –
The crowds, the announcers, him!
The media, the sponsors, God on high –
What luck! The dollars! They embraced.

With a wave you made your way,
The social stuff slowing you down.
The hero’s hug, the media’s thirst,
The historic eighteenth green.
He’d risen again, their money machine!
The cheering’s tinkling sound.

In his arms a clinging feeling,
Water paling his coal-hard eyes.
Before he’d aged he would have raged –
Had you me patronized!
But – what shame? (or what gain?) – to win again –
The great! – the me! – the prize!

Unfortunately, you still felt and saw,
Once out of the applause and sun.
What you should’ve, you’d thought, had you done?
Though future triumphs for you would come,
This would be this man’s last crown,
And your friendship had run its run.

We’re prisoners of our memories,
No matter how well we compete.
You’d no more forget that creek-bound ball
Than he his incredible feat.
Money, fame, friendship, what else?
Even kindness felt bittersweet.


— Poem(s) and “cover” (homepage) watercolor by William Eaton. The watercolor is after a work by the California artist John McLaughlin, though the version here is hardly as austere as the original.

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