1979–97, Hartford, CT (“Insurance City”)

I

I sing for the Hartford Whalers:
I mourn for a hockey team
that never, like Ahab’s sailors,
dreamed the implausible dream,
or went down as hopeless flailers,
failing in the extreme.
They skated around their rink
and couldn’t exactly sink.

II

In homeroom at age eight,
I studied, with fascination,
facts about my home state.
I worried: our population,
with its glacially slow growth rate,
was the tiniest in the nation
ever to try to support
a team in a big-league sport.

Yet there, in a vision of green,
they were and seemed to belong—
Shanahan, Burke, Dineen
(I number them all in my song)—
till, as I neared thirteen,
the facts proved all of them wrong.
The team would keep playing, but
not in Connecticut.

III

My own youth hockey days
had ended two years prior.
I’d set no ice ablaze
as a “Northern Connecticut Flyer”;
nor, in my first growth phase,
had I shot all that much higher.
Still I stood tall and roared
whenever my Whalers scored…

The victory jingle, “Brass Bonanza,”
fills the stadium, gives the fans a
thrill. To this extravaganza
I devote a special stanza.

Suddenly hockey hurt:
the Whalers bowed, withdrew;
sports, in a final spurt,
outgrew me. Shortly I grew
out of my Whalers shirt,
my state—my family, too
(the fabric had started shrinking
and our population sinking).

IV

These days I live down south,
but I’m getting a chill again—
the draft I felt in youth,
joining the league of men.
Though all the teeth in my mouth
are accounted for, now as then,
in dreams they are missing, falling.
My team is my family, brawling.

And Hartford runs a correction
in small print in the Courant’s
editorial section:
“There’s no such thing as insurance.
We lied for your protection.
Innocence builds endurance.
But lost is lost is lost:
now wake up and eat the cost.”

Connecticut seems to remain.
My family has mostly gone.
I squint from a homebound train
at the capitol’s snowbound lawn,
count each quaint weathervane,
assess what the weather’s done…
But the place disclaims all claims.
I’ve stopped watching hockey games:

how can a grown man root
when the home team may just duck
out of its stadium, scoot
out of reach like a puck—
and home is no absolute,
either? With any luck,
love learns to improvise
on thin blades, on thin ice.

V

The town once threw a parade
when the Whalers survived the first
round of the playoffs. They played
decently—not their worst—
then lost as soon as they’d made
the point that they weren’t cursed.
This happened when I was one;
then the glory days were done.

But what is athletic grace?
And who are sports’ true heroes?
I watch a Zamboni trace
its Zen, concentric zeroes
on pure white mental space.
Within that zone of clear O’s,
one small black speck will go on
eluding me like a koan.

I sing for the team I loved
in a key that is cheerfully minor.
I mourn for the year they moved,
left my state with a shiner
(though the blow was politely gloved),
and settled in Carolina,
a market not quite as small.
The next year, they won it all.

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AUSTIN ALLEN is a poet, essayist, and the editor of the Poetry Genius project at Rap Genius. His poems have appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review, Linebreak, The Nervous Breakdown, The New Guard, Unsplendid, and elsewhere. His essays and criticism have been featured by Poetry Foundation, Open Letters Monthly, and Big Think, where he formerly worked as an editor and to which he contributes the Book Think literary blog. He holds an MFA in poetry from Johns Hopkins University, where he also taught as a creative writing instructor. He was born in Connecticut and lives wherever work and writing take him.

2 responses to “Ode to the Hartford Whalers”

  1. Rabbi Jason Palmer says:

    I will always love the Whale and I thank you for your poem.

  2. Kate says:

    Looks like we’re the same age and the Whalers were ripped away from us in our formative years… I could draw the Whalers logo with my eyes closed and had it on all my book covers and reports about CT. I also had I <3 Geoff Sanderson and Katie Sanderson everywhere too 🙂

    I don't really root for any team now even though I live in Boston. I kinda root for Winnepeg because they got their team back but my ringtone is Brass Bonanza and I will forever bleed green.

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