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  • NYS Writers Institute

Poetry Friday: "Sigmund Freud and Babe Ruth in Heaven"

We like to connect our Poetry Friday selection to a significant date in literature or some poetic news of the day. Then there are those Fridays when our 'this date in history' search turns up a not-so-literary note. Today is one of those days. So, with a tip of the cap to Thomas Hardy (born on this date in 1840) and Lydia Lunch (born otd 1949)...

On this date in 1935, George Herman Ruth – “Babe,” “The Colossus of Crash,” “The Sultan of Swat,” “The Great Bambino” -- announced his retirement from baseball at age 40. The previous day, he made his last major league appearance playing for the Boston Braves.

Just one week earlier in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Babe went 4-for-4 and slugged three home runs. The final home run, #714, was memorialized by The Boston Globe in the glorious sportswriting of yore:

"The third time, in the seventh inning, he caught hold of one of Guy Bush’s slow curves, and with one mighty swipe sent it clear out of the ballpark 50 feet over the right field stands, the first time the ball had ever been knocked out of the park in that particular spot... It was a home run all the way and when the ball disappeared behind the stands, there was a mighty roar from the crowd of 10,000."

Jane Leavy's 2018 book, The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created

"Babe" Ruth, was selected one of five players in the inaugural class of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown in 1936. If you're a Babe fan, check out Jane Leavy's 2018 book, The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created, praised by noted baseball writer Bill James as "the biggest thing that has happened in my life since Santa Claus visited my classroom in the second grade.” (Leavy was a guest at our 2020 Albany Book Festival.)

That concludes our pregame chatter. Here is a delightful Poetry Friday poem by Hans Ostrom, a poet, author, and professor at the University of Puget Sound (our director Paul Grondahl's alma mater).

Sigmund Freud and Babe Ruth in Heaven

Sigmund sits in a cool dugout, theorizing The Babe, who daily trots out in Heaven’s perpetual Spring Training and wrists pitches over marble walls. The Babe plays in his underwear, looks like a white radish atop toothpicks. Dr. Freud is addicted to a revulsion he feels for this Orality of a man, who even in Heaven devours raw steak, rashers of bacon, barrels of ale, potatoes, fudge, cigars, brandy. Ruth’s lips are immense. His voice burbles up like raw crude. The doctor cannot keep himself from watching George Herman’s buttocks flinch when he turns on a pitch. Wearing a Brooklyn Dodger’s cap, Freud scribbles notes toward a paradigm of Baseball As Dream. At home plate, Bambino belches, breaks wind. The doctor feels discontent. Apparently, there’s no treatment for this Promethean-American adolescent -- voracious as a bear, incorrigible as a cat, friendly and feral. Babe calls Sigmund “Doc,” of course. When they play catch, Babe bends curves and floats knucklers -- "junk" for bespectacled Doc, who squints and shies when ball slaps mitt. The ball falls out as often as not. Sometimes, though, a principled grin grows on Freud’s grizzled face. For the doctor is day-dreaming he’s a boy in Brooklyn -- that Herr Ruth, Der Yank, is his step-father. When the ball does slip snugly into dark webbing, no sting, Freud feels the power of Catch as Ritual. Hey, there you go, Doc! growls His Babeness — and spits brownly, O prodigiously, onto Heaven’s green.

(Republished with permission. Copyright Hans Ostrom.)

Hans Ostrom

Hans Ostrom, Professor, African American Studies and English, and James Dolliver National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Puget Sound, teaches composition, creative writing, rhetoric, and literature.

He is the author of the novels Three to Get Ready (1991) and Honoring Juanita (2010), as well as The Coast Starlight: Collected Poems 1976–2006. He wrote A Langston Hughes Encyclopedia and was editor with J. David Macey of The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature.

Ostrom has been publishing poetry and short fiction in British and American magazines since the late 1970s.


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