April 01, 2016

The Gil Carter Correspondence

On the night of August 11, 1959, a minor league baseball player named Gil Carter hit what is believed to be the longest home run in history, approximately 730 feet. When the ball disappeared over the 60-foot light pole behind the left-field fence it was still on its way up.

Before he takes his insulin, the man who hit the really long home run responds in longhand to another patient fan: “Thank you so much for writing, Mr. Bonds.

Yes, I remember almost everything, the nighthawk silhouettes, the infield chatter, the ball becoming huge, the hitchless swing, the lone voice swallowing its last no batter, slack faces lifted to the firmament —and by the ball I hope you know I mean the one that hadn’t finished its ascent the last time it was seen, which isn’t necessarily the one beside me as I write. It wasn’t hard in ’59 to find a fresh home run in any big New Mexican backyard.

Home run: what a spectacular misnomer. You can’t go home again, jiggity-jog. If forced to choose a name I’d favor Homer, less for Odysseus than for his dog.

What can I truly say about this ball? It’s horsehide, twine, and yarn from Costa Rica hugging a hunk of cork from Portugal. On its slow odyssey to East Topeka my homer would’ve been the shortest leg. I saw the seams that night, the sutured leather, and realized this was the only egg horses and men would ever put together, and that I should reopen it, should try to beat it back into the cosmic batter from which we’re conjured. Chickens long to fly, but if an egg can long it longs to shatter.

Of course I couldn’t do it. Once again I took the full cut and it simply flew. I’d love to tell you how that felt, but then I wouldn’t be the only one who knew.”


Eric McHenry’94 is the 2015-17 Poet Laureate of Kansas and an associate professor of English at Washburn University. “The Gil Carter Correspondence” appears in Odd Evening, a collection of poems published in March 2016 by The Waywiser Press.


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    After nearly 60 years, these Buccaneers don’t quit

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