Tending Babe Ruth’s grave
New York City, New York, United States
|Babe Ruth’s grave in Gate of Heaven Cemetery|
We’ve got our share of notables and has-beens,
Mobsters and vaudeville stars and even Bess Houdini,
Harry’s widow, tucked under polished Barre granite,
But the Babe’s our star attraction. Old-time fans
And kids stuffed into vintage pinstriped flannel,
Trousers bagged at the cleats, lay offerings before
His sand-blasted stele like pilgrims at Lourdes
Or petitioners before the Guadalupe Virgin:
Flags and caps and candles, golf balls, trophy bats,
Enough horse shoes to shod a troop of cavalry.
Also a pair of ballet slippers, a lock of auburn hair,
A water-gnawed Silver Screen dated August 1937,
Joan Blondell beaming from the cover. You’d think
Half the Bronx paraded through each weekend,
Shouting, trampling, French kissing behind crypts—
Stunts they’d never risk at Woodlawn or Arlington.
I do the mowing.
Six mornings weekly, April through September,
I’m out there on the tractor or knee-deep in scrub,
Tugging at pokeweed and mugwort. That’s what
“Perpetual care” buys: Sixty-two years of belly fat
Yanking mallow til his lungs hurt.
On Mondays the gates close early and we clear
The Babe’s altar. One of the diggers pockets balls
And mini-bats for his son: The boy’s got a club
Foot, so nobody begrudges his collection. Spare
Change goes to the Kiwanis Club of East Armonk.
Most artefacts—rabbits’ feet, gourmet pickles—
Follow a well-trod path to the dumpster. What do I want
With ten-sided casino dice and saintly bronze medallions?
I’ve got my own grave waiting in Yonkers.
They’ve no room for me here. Least not at my price.
No discount plan for pot-bellied sinew. And it’s a
Pretty penny in Yonkers too, let me tell you. All
That cash thrown into the wormy earth—makes you
Wonder what these folks come to see, what they’re
Worshiping. Just a cold stone slab. Same as I’ll get.
Shell out a month’s pay for six square feet of nothing,
You might as well buy some peace and quiet.
JACOB M. APPEL, MD, JD, MPH, MFA, is the author of three literary novels, seven short story collections, an essay collection, a cozy mystery and a thriller. His first novel, The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, won the 2012 Dundee International Book Award and was published by Cargo. His short fiction collection, Scouting for the Reaper, won the 2012 Hudson Prize and was published by Black Lawrence Press in 2014. He is also the author of more than two hundred published short stories. Jacob currently teaches at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and serves as an attending physician at Mount Sinai Hospital. More at www.jacobmappel.com