Rodan's hands
Cover of 'Bending the Notes'

Poem from Bending the Notes featured on
The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor read “Little League ” on National Public Radio’s
The Writer’s Almanac
on Saturday, May 2, 2009.
“Little League” is from Bending the Notes by Paul Hostovsky. © Main Street Rag, 2008.

Little League

When the ump produces
his little hand broom
and stops all play to stoop
and dust off home plate,
my daughter sitting beside me
looks up and gives me a smile that says
this is by far her favorite part of baseball.

And then when he skillfully
spits without getting any
on the catcher or the batter or himself,
she looks up again and smiles
even bigger.

But when someone hits a long foul ball
and everyone's eyes are on it
as it sails out of play ...
the ump has dipped his hand
into his bottomless black pocket
and conjured up a shiny new white one
like a brand new coin
from behind the catcher's ear,
which he then gives to the catcher
who seems to contain his surprise
though behind his mask his eyes are surely
as wide with wonder as hers.


Garrison Keillor read “Be Mine ” on National Public Radio’s
The Writer’s Almanac
on Thursday, December 30, 2010.
“Be Mine” is from Bending the Notes by Paul Hostovsky. © Main Street Rag, 2008.

Be Mine

I love mankind most
when no one's around.
On New Year's Day for instance,
when everything's closed
and I'm driving home on the highway alone
for hours in the narrating rain,
with no exact change,
the collector's booth glowing ahead
in the tumbling dark
like a little lit temple
with an angel inside and a radio
which as I open my window,
a little embarrassed by
my need for change
(until the silence says
it needs no explanation),
is suddenly playing a music more lovely
than any I've ever heard.
And the hand—
so open, so hopeful,
that I feel an urge to kiss it—
lowers the little life-boat of itself
and takes the moist and crumpled prayer
of my dollar bill from me.
Then the tap, tap,
tinkling spill of the roll of coins
broken against the register drawer,
and the hand returning two coins, and a voice
sweeter than the radio's music,
saying, "Have a good one, man."
I would answer that voice if I could—
which of course I can't—
that I've loved it ever since it was born
and probably longer than that.
Though "You too,"
is all I can manage,
I say it with great emotion
in a voice that doesn't sound like me,
though it must be


Garrison Keillor read “Trombone Lesson” on National Public Radio’s
The Writer’s Almanac
on Monday, February 25, 2013.
“Trombone Lesson” is from Bending the Notes by Paul Hostovsky. © Main Street Rag, 2008.

Trombone Lesson

The twenty minutes from half past nine
to ten of ten is actually slightly longer
than the twenty minutes from ten of ten
to ten past ten, which is half downhill
as anyone who's ever stared at the hillocky
face of a clock in the 5th grade will tell you.
My trombone lesson with Mr. Leister
was out the classroom door and down
the tessellating hallway to the band room
which was full of empty chairs and music stands
from ten past ten to ten-forty, which is half
an hour and was actually slightly shorter
than the twenty minutes that came before or after
which as anyone who's ever played trombone
will tell you, had to do with the length of the slide
and the smell of the brass and also the mechanism
of the spit-valve and the way that Mr. Leister
accompanied me on his silver trumpet making
the music sound so elegantly and eminently
better than when I practiced it at home
for hours and hours which were all much shorter
than an hour actually, as anyone who's ever
practiced the art of deception with a musical
instrument will tell you, if he's honest and has any
inkling of the spluttering, sliding, flaring,
slippery nature of time, youth and trombones.

Garrison Keillor read “Not the End of the World” on National Public Radio’s
The Writer’s Almanac
on July 14, 2012.
“Not the End of the World” is from Bending the Notes by Paul Hostovsky. © Main Street Rag, 2008.

Not the End of the World

"Unhand her, vagabond," was my one line
in the school play. I had the part of the cop,
a minor role compared to Beth Levine's,
the heroine, or Billy Wiesenkopf's,
the vagabond. Still, I took my part seriously.
So although he forgot to take her hand, right on cue
I yelled, "Unhand her, vagabond," and it struck me
and everyone else, that my line made no sense. Then I knew:
this is the kind of mistake that will end the world.
A question of bad timing will hang in the air
like an empty trapeze swinging above the smoke
of that final disaster. Someone will utter a word
too late to take back, reach for a hand that's not there,
and "It's not the end of the world" will not be spoken.

Garrison Keillor read “Wincing at the Beautiful” on National Public Radio’s
The Writer’s Almanac
on August 28, 2016.
“Wincing at the Beautiful” is from Bending the Notes by Paul Hostovsky. © Main Street Rag, 2008.

Wincing at the Beautiful

So my friend Phil is telling me how
he can't get a date
how he loves women and how
they're always giving him looks
so I ask him what kind of looks
so he winces at the beautiful
braless young woman passing by
at that particular propitious moment
giving her a look of such
longing and longevity
that she returns his look with a look
that kills his entire family tree
from the roots to the unimagined
blossoms of the great grandchildren shriveling
on his shriveling bough
and I think I've diagnosed his problem now
and I think of quoting some lines from Rilke
but on second thought I think a sports metaphor
might serve him better
so I steer the conversation round to basketball
and the three second rule
which says you can only stand inside
the key for three seconds
before they blow the whistle
they're just blowing the whistle on you Phil
for breaking the three second rule
for standing there with your eyes
popping out like basketballs
it's a game like any other I tell him
then I ask him if he wants to score
and now that I have his attention
I throw in those lines from Rilke
I tell him that beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror
we're still just able to bear
and the reason we adore it so
is that it serenely disdains to destroy us
and he winces again and this time
it's at the beauty of those lines
or maybe their truth which hits him
like a three-pointer now
that Rilke hits all the way from Germany
at a distance of a hundred years