For John Pfitsch

(1919–2012)

I met him on the first day of my freshman year
And he told me that he always liked Israelis

I’m not Israeli I explained at football practice
But he wouldn’t hear of it

We were running drills in the hot afternoon
He was drawing plays on the blackboard

It has been forty years but I still remember
The day he told us about liberating
A concentration camp in 1945

Who wouldn’t be changed by that he said

He was shaken by the suffering of the dead
And he admired the toughness of survivors

He always sided with the underdogs
The long-shots who fought their way into history

He always liked the strategies the drills
The odds that pitted him against larger teams

He was born in India
A country that came from far behind

And he was raised in Texas
Where he played everything all the time

So he could become a coach of all sports
A village explainer

It has been forty years but I can close my eyes
And still see him showing me the flea flicker

The right way to box out your man
The headfirst slide

He was obsessed with trying to see the ball
Hit the racket hit the club hit the bat

He was under the impression that kindness counts
Democracy works and everyone should be included

Women and men old and young
Slow-footed soccer players and poets

The non-swimmers should hop in the pool
And he would teach them too

He has his arm draped around me
And we’re walking across the football field

The basketball court the baseball diamond
We’re standing side by side in the pool

If there is a small college in the other world
Then he is there right now

Gathering people together
To explain a play and give a pep talk

Edward Hirsch ’72