'Ballplayer' by Evie Shockley
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i cop a squat on a squared-off log,
to watch you ball on the community center court.
butt numb, i shift my weight
and shake mosquitos from my ankles,
but never take my eyes off the game.
yours follow the orange orb, your pupils
twin, brown moons reflecting its light.
your play is wild efficiency,
you are a four-pronged magic wand,
waving, as if agentless, in all directions at once.
an opponent dribbles the ball - now he sees it,
now he don't, it's gone, flown,
and you've given it its wings.
you are one-eighth of the shrieking rubber,
one-eighth of the growls and calls. you are
the delicious assist, the unerring pass.
you spread your skills out before me, a peacock
among pigeons, as if to say "all eyes on me,"
and make it worth my while.
a chill trails the sun west like a long, clammy train,
crawls over me and my makeshift bench,
over the emptying playground,
but stops at the edge of the concrete,
where eight men burning keep it at bay,
the way torches smoking around a patio
ward off insects. twilight rises like dark steam
from the dewy grass, but you don't see it.
the ball still lights the court
until the winning jumper sinks and puts it out.
then earth returns to view, and you jog over
to slap my palm and beam,
and receive the grin i give you like a trophy.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Evie Shockley's "Ballplayer": A Literary Analysis
Have you ever read a poem that made you feel like you were watching a live performance? Evie Shockley's "Ballplayer" is one of those poems. With its rhythmic flow and vivid imagery, it takes you through the experiences of a young Black boy playing baseball. In this essay, I will explore the themes and literary devices used by Shockley in "Ballplayer."
The Historical Context
Before we dive into the poem, let's take a moment to understand its historical context. "Ballplayer" was published in 2011, a time when America was grappling with issues of racism and social injustice. This was also a time when baseball, which had once been considered "America's Favorite Pastime," was losing its popularity. Shockley's poem speaks to both of these issues.
It is important to note that baseball has always been a deeply racialized sport. African American players were banned from the Major Leagues until 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Even after integration, Black players continued to face discrimination and unequal treatment. This context is important for understanding the experiences of the young Black boy in Shockley's poem.
"Ballplayer" is a free-verse poem, meaning that it does not follow a strict rhyme scheme or meter. However, it does have a rhythmic flow that mimics the movements of a baseball player. The poem is divided into three sections, each of which explores a different aspect of the boy's experience.
Section 1: The Field
The first section of the poem sets the scene. We are introduced to the young boy as he steps onto the baseball field. Shockley uses vivid imagery to bring the scene to life:
He steps onto the diamond
chalk dust rising like his spirits
with each footfall
We can almost see the dust rising from the ground as the boy walks onto the field. This imagery creates a sense of excitement and anticipation.
As the boy begins to play, we see how much he loves the game:
the grass beneath his feet
is the green of summer leaves
and the sky above his head
is the high blue of a dream
The language here is rich and evocative. The grass is not just green, it is "the green of summer leaves." The sky is not just blue, it is "the high blue of a dream." This imagery conveys the boy's sense of wonder and joy as he plays the game he loves.
Section 2: The Fans
The second section of the poem shifts focus to the fans. We see the boy's family and friends cheering him on from the stands:
his mother's voice a soprano
among the chatter of the crowd
his father's basso counting
balls and strikes aloud
Once again, Shockley's use of imagery is powerful. We can hear the mother's voice cutting through the noise of the crowd, and we can imagine the father keeping track of the game in his deep, booming voice.
However, there is an undercurrent of tension in this section. The boy's family and friends are not the only ones in the stands:
but also the ones who only
cheer when he makes a mistake
Here, we see the racism and prejudice that the boy faces on the field. There are people who want him to fail, who take pleasure in his mistakes. This tension adds depth and complexity to the poem, reminding us that the boy's experience is not just one of joy and wonder.
Section 3: The Future
The third and final section of the poem looks to the future. We see the boy dreaming of becoming a professional baseball player:
he pictures himself in pinstripes
or maybe Dodger blue
Once again, Shockley's use of imagery is powerful. We can see the boy imagining himself in the colors of his favorite teams. However, there is a sense of uncertainty here. The boy knows that the path to becoming a professional player is not an easy one:
he knows his path to the majors
is long and winding
that there are no guarantees
The language here is more somber than in the previous sections. We can feel the weight of the boy's dreams and the uncertainty that comes with them.
At its core, "Ballplayer" is a poem about the joys and challenges of pursuing one's dreams. The young boy loves baseball and dreams of becoming a professional player, but he also faces racism and prejudice on the field. This tension between hope and struggle is central to the poem.
Another theme in "Ballplayer" is the power of community. The boy's family and friends cheer him on from the stands, providing him with love and support. However, there are also people in the stands who want him to fail. This tension between support and opposition highlights the importance of community in the face of adversity.
Throughout "Ballplayer," Shockley makes use of a variety of literary devices to create a sense of movement and energy. One of the most prominent devices is imagery. From the dust rising from the field to the colors of the boy's favorite teams, Shockley uses vivid imagery to bring the poem to life.
Another important device in the poem is repetition. The phrase "he steps onto the diamond" is repeated several times throughout the poem, creating a sense of rhythm and movement. Additionally, the repetition of the phrase "but also" in the second section emphasizes the tension between support and opposition that the boy faces.
Finally, Shockley makes use of enjambment to create a sense of flow and movement. Many of the lines in the poem run into one another, creating a sense of continuous motion. This technique reinforces the theme of movement and energy that runs throughout the poem.
"Ballplayer" is a powerful and evocative poem that captures the joys and challenges of pursuing one's dreams. Through vivid imagery and powerful language, Evie Shockley brings the world of baseball to life, highlighting both its beauty and its flaws. By exploring themes of community, hope, and struggle, "Ballplayer" speaks to the experiences of all those who dream of making it to the big leagues.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Ballplayer: A Poem of Triumph and Struggle
Evie Shockley’s poem “Ballplayer” is a powerful and moving tribute to the struggles and triumphs of African American baseball players. Through vivid imagery and skillful use of language, Shockley captures the physical and emotional challenges faced by these athletes, as well as the joy and pride they feel in their accomplishments. In this analysis, we will explore the themes and techniques used in “Ballplayer,” and examine the ways in which Shockley’s poem speaks to larger issues of race, identity, and social justice.
The poem opens with a description of the ballplayer’s physical prowess: “He’s got a swing like a hurricane, / a body like a lightning bolt.” These lines immediately establish the ballplayer as a figure of strength and power, someone who commands attention and respect. But the poem quickly moves beyond this surface level of physicality, delving into the deeper emotional and psychological struggles that the ballplayer faces.
One of the key themes of “Ballplayer” is the tension between individual achievement and collective struggle. The ballplayer is described as “a one-man team,” but he is also part of a larger community of players who share his experiences and challenges. Shockley captures this tension in lines like “He’s got to be the one to make it / but he can’t do it alone,” which highlight the pressure and isolation that the ballplayer feels, even as he is surrounded by teammates and fans.
Another important theme in the poem is the idea of resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity. The ballplayer is described as “a survivor,” someone who has overcome obstacles and setbacks to achieve success. This theme is particularly resonant in the context of African American history, where the struggle for civil rights and equality has often required immense strength and determination. Shockley’s poem celebrates this resilience, while also acknowledging the ongoing challenges that African Americans face in the present day.
One of the most striking aspects of “Ballplayer” is the way in which Shockley uses language to convey the physicality and intensity of the game of baseball. The poem is full of vivid, sensory details that bring the game to life: “the crack of the bat, the smack of the ball / against leather, the thud of a body / hitting the ground.” These lines capture the visceral experience of playing and watching baseball, and they also serve to underscore the physical risks and challenges that the ballplayer faces.
At the same time, Shockley’s language is also rich with metaphor and symbolism. The ballplayer is described as “a comet streaking across the sky,” a figure of both beauty and danger. This metaphor captures the way in which the ballplayer’s success is both awe-inspiring and precarious, dependent on a delicate balance of skill, luck, and timing. Similarly, the image of the ballplayer “sliding into home / like a bullet” conveys both the speed and force of his movements, as well as the danger and risk involved in his actions.
Another important aspect of “Ballplayer” is the way in which it speaks to larger issues of race and identity. The poem is full of references to the history and culture of African Americans, from the “Negro Leagues” of the past to the contemporary struggles for racial justice. The ballplayer is described as “a black man in a white man’s game,” a figure who must navigate the complex racial dynamics of the sport and society at large. This theme is particularly resonant in light of recent controversies in the world of sports, such as the protests against police brutality and racial inequality that have taken place during the national anthem at NFL games.
Ultimately, “Ballplayer” is a poem of triumph and struggle, a celebration of the physical and emotional strength required to succeed in the face of adversity. Through her use of vivid imagery, metaphor, and symbolism, Shockley captures the intensity and complexity of the game of baseball, as well as the larger social and cultural issues that surround it. Whether read as a tribute to African American athletes, a commentary on race and identity, or simply a powerful work of poetry, “Ballplayer” is a testament to the enduring power of the human spirit.
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