University of Minnesota
minnesota writing project
center for writing

Minnesota Writing Project.Center for Writing's home page.

Dan Kirkham

Dan Kirkham reading© 2007


After the Minnesota Twins defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1987 World Series, my dad took me to Twins Fest to get Kirby Puckett’s autograph. Kirby had a two-hour slot at the signing table, so we figured we’d be safe if we arrived at the Metrodome two hours before that.  But after four hours in line, with still over a hundred fans in front of us, we faced the gloomy certainty that we would miss him.

I followed my dad’s feet away from the broken line, into the swarms of fans at card stands, snack bars, and souvenir racks, and my throat burned.  I breathed heavy air through my nostrils, in out, in out, while chanting in my head don’t cry, don’t cry.  In out, don’t cry

Suddenly my dad’s feet stopped, and I raised my eyes to see Kirby and his entourage moving in our general direction from the signing area. Of course, hundreds of people were following him, surrounding him, keeping as respectful a distance as excitement would allow. My dad and I inched closer, weaving, dodging elbows, trying to anticipate where our paths might cross with his, until, miraculously, there he was.  Maybe it was because I was standing directly in his path, but he looked down at me.  I felt a squeeze on my shoulder, then heard my own voice.

“Can I please have your autograph, Kirby?” I held up the baseball I had brought. 

“You got a pen, big man?”

No pen. Hadn’t thought to bring a pen. Looked up at my dad’s hands patting shirt pockets, his head shaking, then back to Kirby, my heart thumping in my throat.

Kirby’s voice boomed.  “Who’s got a pen, man? I need a pen.” Fifty pens held in the air by hopeful fans. Kirby grabbed a Sharpie, signed my ball, then a marker and signed the shoulder of my shirt. “What position, big man?”

“P-pitcher and first base and sometimes third base.”

“Pitcher huh? Hope I’m retired by the time you’re in the majors, big man.” Then he threw his head back, laughed, and continued on his way.  And so did we.

Years later, I’ve written this story a half dozen times, but I’ve never gotten it right.  Like now, you’re probably thinking Kirby Puckett’s autograph!  What luck!  But it’s not about that.  That never even happened.  It doesn’t matter, though, because it’s really a story about tipping over a sailboat, about cross-country skiing under the stars, about countless hours of catch in the yard.  I add, I subtract, I invent, but I can never seem to capture how I feel about my dad. 


Gramps wears a floppy-rimmed hat
with a dangling smile of a draw chord
that he never toggles to his chin. 
His watch chain
clips to his shirt’s left pocket
and drapes right across his chest
into his other pocket
where the fob rests
next to a half-smoked cigar.

His hand grips a cane
that helps him get free coffee,
not walk.

But look down at his feet. 
When he eases out of his brand new
shiny black shoes
you’ll see that he has snipped the toe
sections from his dress socks. 
Toes point a million directions out of those holes
and if you’re lucky
he’ll peel off the half-socks
(on a shopping mall bench, say)
and rub a green, pungent ointment into his feet. 
They’re built like a ballerina’s,
he’ll rumble if you ask him why on
earth he’s doing that. 
High arches, you know, and all that. 
Then he’ll raise one of his toothbrush eyebrows
and ask if you’d like a mint.


A late October shift, like rain to sleet,
could too be seen in Lucy’s fickle heart.
But none could forecast it, not even Pete,
who planned to marry her at summer’s start—
for Pete loved Lucy as the grass loves dew,
and also as a gentle face loves breeze.
“Oh Pete,” she said, “I’ll run away with you
tomorrow.  Meet me ‘neath the willow trees.”
But from the midnight hour to dawn of morn,
the glaring, envious moon changed Lucy’s mind,
and Peter waited hours, then days, forlorn,
then thundered over how he’d been so blind.
Then at her door, his dagger forced a flood,
as his torrential pain spilled out in blood.