Dorchester Alley

by George McDermott

—On a photograph by Lewis W. Hine

The caption says this is a playground and yes
there are children here and some
are playing but an objective eye would see
only an alley with wash lines strung
between the tenement windows
                 it says this is Boston 1909
and three boys
are pitcher batter catcher
maybe ten years old
                 and they’d look the same
in New York Philly Chicago
but this caption says Boston and
one of the boys could be my father and
the picture catches my breath not just my eye.

He could be the boy on the wagon watching
too young to play only seven that summer
                 watching instead
learning the art learning the science
trying to master subliminal physics
angles of incidence vectors momentum
                 how to hit behind the runner
or follow the ball in a cloudless sky
the lessons for sandlots the same as for majors
lessons learned and passed on like legends
like bubblegum cards and autographed balls.

This is a boy who could be my father
learning the game I learned from him
and I show the photograph to my daughter
                 this could be your grandpa I tell her
this could be grandpa when he was your age
and she says daddy why are you crying.

Published on December 5, 2023