Dwayne Brenna brings the game of baseball into poetry in a book filled with grace and memory—memory of how this game shaped him into a man and how this man’s identity was shaped by the game. Stealing Home sings of the joy and the beauty of baseball while the stages of life zing past like a cold, hard, 4-seam fastball.
This collection is broken into five sections, each section describing how we ingest the game whether we are a player or a fan, each section helping us to absorb the best game ever invented—in Saskatchewan of course: “But even unread schoolboys know / that baseball was invented in Saskatchewan / When Henry Kelsey found the perfect stone.” Brenna gives us life lessons and tenderness towards humanity throughout this work and helps us to see how the love of one thing is intercepted and intertwined with all that is happening around us in life.
From the early beginnings of a young farm boy heading off to his first tryout (“My dad is in the driver’s seat, / skinny, / way too young to be a dad, / …Don’t be shy, he says, and tell’ em you can pitch”) to the older boy who realizes even coaches make mistakes (“Early in the year and we’ve just lost again / bad. We’re kneeling on the outfield grass / like witches in a sacrifice”) to the young man carrying a coach’s casket (“We hoist him on our shoulders like we never did / his casket seeming lighter than he was”). We get to grow up with Brenna and view the shaping of a man through a game that he loves; this book is a rare beauty.
I spent eight years in Prince Albert, SK—three of my sons were born there. There is no spring without baseball and when I was there I coached my sons’ very Little League team and watched my brother ump on the hot, humid nights that cover the baseball field like a wet beach towel. There is a language exclusive to this game—“Hum hum hummunuh / hey righty hey right side / hey boss hey li’l rider”—I can hear what Brenna writes. And I feel the strained respect towards umpires in “Blue Team”:
I used to think of umpires as stray dogs
with no allegiance or morality;
pretend you’re friends but bite you in the ass
…That’s how I learned to put some faith in umps
Not trust them totally perhaps. Stray dogs
are always strays, no matter how they bark.
Brenna takes me back to a very happy time.
There are quotations from the greats of baseball and tributes to their contribution to the game; there’s hard sex and fast women. Brenna explores the entire world through this game that he loves and adores, and like life itself he lives it well and with gusto. But inside all the manly player bravado there lies a deep tenderness in his work:
My father’s catcher’s mitt was all I had of him
except his eyes, his voice, his way of standing—
…When fathers die, you lose
a little more of them each day.
Now I’ve lost the smell of leather
and the oil he used
his hand print in the glove.
Stealing Home steals my heart; thank you for this collection Mr. Brenna.
Norma Dunning is a beneficiary of Nunavut. She is most grateful, and humbled, to be recognized by her home-supporting community of Whale Cove. She is an urban Inuit writer and a second-year MA student with the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta.