Ode to the Hartford Whalers

I never had much time for poetry.  “Waffly, ephemeral stuff,” my impatient younger self thought.

In advancing middle age I increasingly find it the most profound form of writing.  Prose captures the narrative, but nothing conveys feelings as well as poetry.

It reminds me of Impressionist painting in the way that it captures an intense fleeting moment.  In retrospect we can see the thread of our experience, but we live it daily in a thousand barely comprehended flashes.  Recording those flashes is the stuff of poetry.

The Almanac has its own resident Haiku master, and Damian Ballasone has shared and published volumes of poetry.  I intend to publish a few of my own when they are more refined.  But as a warm-up I wanted to share some sporting themed poems I have come across on my Internet trawls.

This one is from www.the nervousbreakdown.com (a brilliant literary and cultural website) and will be close to the heart of Doggies and Saints fans everywhere, or Roy Boys who couldn’t follow their heart to the sunny north.  It celebrates the life and demise of the Hartford Whalers Ice Hockey team.

Ode to the Hartford Whalers

By Austin Allen

July 30, 2013

1979-97, Hartford, CT (“Insurance City”)

I

I sing for the Hartford Whalers:
I mourn for a hockey team
that never, like Ahab’s sailors,
dreamed the implausible dream,
or went down as hopeless flailers,
failing in the extreme.
They skated around their rink
and couldn’t exactly sink.

II

In homeroom at age eight,
I studied, with fascination,
facts about my home state.
I worried: our population,
with its glacially slow growth rate,
was the tiniest in the nation
ever to try to support
a team in a big-league sport.

Yet there, in a vision of green,
they were and seemed to belong—
Shanahan, Burke, Dineen
(I number them all in my song)—
till, as I neared thirteen,
the facts proved all of them wrong.
The team would keep playing, but
not in Connecticut.

III

My own youth hockey days
had ended two years prior.
I’d set no ice ablaze
as a “Northern Connecticut Flyer”;
nor, in my first growth phase,
had I shot all that much higher.
Still I stood tall and roared
whenever my Whalers scored…

The victory jingle, “Brass Bonanza,”
fills the stadium, gives the fans a
thrill. To this extravaganza
I devote a special stanza.

Suddenly hockey hurt:
the Whalers bowed, withdrew;
sports, in a final spurt,
outgrew me. Shortly I grew
out of my Whalers shirt,
my state—my family, too
(the fabric had started shrinking
and our population sinking).

IV

These days I live down south,
but I’m getting a chill again—
the draft I felt in youth,
joining the league of men.
Though all the teeth in my mouth
are accounted for, now as then,
in dreams they are missing, falling.
My team is my family, brawling.

And Hartford runs a correction
in small print in the Courant’s
editorial section:
“There’s no such thing as insurance.
We lied for your protection.
Innocence builds endurance.
But lost is lost is lost:
now wake up and eat the cost.”

Connecticut seems to remain.
My family has mostly gone.
I squint from a homebound train
at the capitol’s snowbound lawn,
count each quaint weathervane,
assess what the weather’s done…
But the place disclaims all claims.
I’ve stopped watching hockey games:

how can a grown man root
when the home team may just duck
out of its stadium, scoot
out of reach like a puck—
and home is no absolute,
either? With any luck,
love learns to improvise
on thin blades, on thin ice.

V

The town once threw a parade
when the Whalers survived the first
round of the playoffs. They played
decently—not their worst—
then lost as soon as they’d made
the point that they weren’t cursed.
This happened when I was one;
then the glory days were done.

But what is athletic grace?
And who are sports’ true heroes?
I watch a Zamboni trace
its Zen, concentric zeroes
on pure white mental space.
Within that zone of clear O’s,
one small black speck will go on
eluding me like a koan.

I sing for the team I loved
in a key that is cheerfully minor.
I mourn for the year they moved,
left my state with a shiner
(though the blow was politely gloved),
and settled in Carolina,
a market not quite as small.
The next year, they won it all.

 

Comments

  1. Andrew Starkie says:

    heartfelt and sad. Made me think of Tassie – and the Roos?

  2. Brad Carr says:

    Peter, we’ve ben in Canada for the last 3 weeks, have seen a lot of references in sports stores to ice hockey teams that have folded or moved, both the Whalers and the Quebec Nordiques.
    interestingly, Winnipeg got their team back a year ago. The Winnipeg Jets had moved and become the Phoenix Coyotes about 15 years ago, when the NHL made a bit expansionary push into the US sunbelt and when the CAD was only worth about USD 0.65-0.7. With parity now, the economicsnorth of the border (paying players USD salaries but earning ticketing and sponsorship money in local currency) have improved, and so a Winnipeg syndicate bought the struggling Atlanta Flames, and re-established the Jets.
    Gives hope for nostalgic Canadians, but doesn’t help the good folk of Hartford.

  3. Young Master Carr,
    Your sick note is accepted. But please submit it before absenting yourself from the Eagles season next time. Canada seems a bit extreme. Couldn’t you have just cancelled the papers and turned off the telly at danger times?
    You will be required to spend 6 months on Manus Island before being let back into the country. You are getting off lightly. I have had to go to all the home games.
    Seen any inuit midfielders on your travels?
    PB

  4. Brad Carr says:

    Peter, I’m currently in the LA Qantas Club, due to land in Melb 8:20am on Sun, will be along at Etihad a few hours later for the latest instalment of this year’s debacle…

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