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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 10: October 2021
Poem: 293 words
By Eric Nelson

Play Ball or Sing

When I heard that the person who prepares 
your order at Subway is called a sandwich artist, 

I remembered my childhood ambition to be a singer. 
Standing in the outfield with my glove like a dead flower 

drooping from my wrist, I sang originals, composed 
on the fly—extended odes to thunder and loneliness. 

When the batter connected and the ball lofted 
toward me, I had no idea where it would land. 

I watched and waited, my song caught in my throat 
until the ball hit the grass and rolled far behind me 

while the crowd screamed, but not how I’d imagined. 
Is it possible to be an artist and make a sandwich 

at the same time, or is it inescapable that you play ball 
or you sing, but you can’t do both? 

Rilke, Vincent, Emily D.—to name a few—couldn’t 
hold a job if they wanted to, and lucky for us, they didn’t. 

It’s the old question of money, or worth. The question 
of paying the bills and dining out once in a while, or 

singing for your supper like the buskers downtown, 
their starveling dogs curled on the sidewalk beside them.
The answers aren’t as important as the questions, 
someone is always saying. I say, What the hell? 

I could use answers now that my brain is starting 
to ossify and a question mark looks like a rope 

just long enough to hang myself with. Right now, 
for example, I can tell by her face and body 

language that my sandwich artist hates my bougie 
guts right now for asking if I can get some 

mayo on the side, could she go easy on the olives, 
and does this come with chips, or is that extra? 



—From the poet’s forthcoming collection, Horse Not Zebra

Eric Nelson’s
Issue 10, October 2021

poems have appeared in many print and online venues, including The Sun, Poetry, The Oxford American, Poetry Daily, and Verse Daily. The most recent of his six poetry collections, Some Wonder, was published by Gival Press in 2015. His new collection, Horse Not Zebra, will be published in 2022. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

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