A Song For Hank Aaron's Swing
Your swing was so smooth, it could have been a paintbrush, sweeping broad strokes on the horizon. In '74, you stood in your tall, relaxed stance, poised on the edge of Ruth's home run record. You watched the ball roll from the pitcher's fingers, saw it rotate in the air, and waited.
As a kid, you learned quick, last-instant swing with a broomstick, swiping at curving bottle caps pitched to you by your brother. Batting crosshanded, you were the beauty of opposites, your thin arms coiled with power. You always let your silence speak for you.
Once, in Milwaukee County Stadium, I watched you hit what seemed to be an infield popup down the third base line. The ball climbed the air and kept climbing, and didn't stop until, far beyond the outfield fence, it poked a hole through the glass floor of heaven.
For years since that game, I've replayed that hit in my mind: that homer was you, Henry, rising so modestly, pushing your shoulders against the heavy sky that tried to hold you down.
When you were just one swing away from the Babe's record, some idiot fans, seeing only black and white, sent you death threats.
But you knew a baseball must be set free. So you swung like you always did, and hit the ball squarely, in the place where the whorls in the wood grain kiss leather goodbye. The ball rose for two decades, high above the shacks of Mobile, high above the Negro leagues, the restaurants where they'd break your team's plates after you ate dinner, high above the bigots who walked off the field the moment a black man walked onto it, and high enough to clear that wall called America.
When the ball landed in our back yards on a spring afternoon, our small sons and daughters ran over and picked it up. Not knowing it was from you, Hank, they giggled and began a game of catch, tossing the ball back and forth through the fragrant, colorless air.
Copyright 1995 Kaleidoscope. Write Place. Volume 6.