American Life in Poetry
One of the most distinctive sounds in small-town America is the chiming of horseshoe pitching. A friend always carries a pair in the trunk of his car. He’ll stop at a park in some little town and start pitching, and soon, he says, others will hear that ringing and suddenly appear as if out of thin air. In this poem, X.J. Kennedy captures the fellowship of horseshoe pitchers.
Old Men Pitching Horseshoes
Back in a yard where ringers groove a ditch,
These four in shirtsleeves congregate to pitch
Dirt-burnished iron. With appraising eye,
One sizes up a peg, hoists and lets fly—
A clang resounds as though a smith had struck
Fire from a forge. His first blow, out of luck,
Rattles in circles. Hitching up his face,
He swings, and weight once more inhabits space,
Tumbles as gently as a new-laid egg.
Extended iron arms surround their peg
Like one come home to greet a long-lost brother.
Shouts from one outpost. Mutters from the other.
Now changing sides, each withered pitcher moves
As his considered dignity behooves
Down the worn path of earth where August flies
And sheaves of air in warm distortions rise,
To stand ground, fling, kick dust with all the force
Of shoes still hammered to a living horse.
Poem copyright 2007 by X.J. Kennedy from “Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), and reprinted by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by The Poetry Foundation and the English department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.