Arrow-right Camera
News >  Features

American Life in Poetry

Who hasn’t wished he or she could talk to a carnival worker and find out what their lives are like? Everybody, perhaps, but the carnival workers. Here’s a poem by Mark Kraushaar of Wisconsin that captures one of those lives.

The Ring Toss Lady Breaks a Five

It’s all of it rigged, she says,

Bust-one-wins, Hi-striker, even the Dozer.

It’s like you think you’ll score that giant panda

for the wife except you can’t, or not

without you drop another twenty

and then – what? – then you win

a thumb-sized monkey or a little comb.

She hands me five ones and then stands.

She’s worked the whole of the midway,

she says, funnel cake to corn-dogs.

She’s worked every game

plus half the rides, Krazy Koaster,

Avalanche, Wing-Ding, Tilt-A-Whirl

and if there’s somebody sick she’ll do

a kiddy ride too, Li’l Choo-choo, maybe

the Tea Cup.

There’s a collapsing soft sigh

and she sits, opens the paper, turns a page

and as if she were the one assigned to face forwards,

as if it were her job to intuit the world

and interpret the news,

Anymore, she says, it’s out of our hands,

it’s all we can do – it’s not up to you.

You see that bald bronco tearing

tickets at the carousel?

We worked the Bottle-drop

and now he’s mine: he’s no genius

but he loves me and he’s mine.

Things happen, she says, you

can’t take them back.

Poem copyright 2013 by the Alaska Quarterly Review, from Alaska Quarterly Review, Vol. 30, No. 1 & 2, and reprinted by permission of the 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.