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Thursday, June 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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American Life in Poetry: ‘Game Prayer’

By Ted Kooser U.S. poet laureate. 2004-06

Most of the school-age athletes I know or have known would have been embarrassed to show any vulnerability, and this fine poem by Al Ortolani, from his chapbook “Hansel and Gretel Get the Word on the Street, published by Rattle,” really catches what I felt like, trying to do my best at what I was never any good at, even on my best day.

Game Prayer

Maybe it’s the way boys

look at each other before the last game,

their eyes wet and glimmering with rain.

Maybe it’s that I catch them

in these shy moments of waiting,

turning the world like a pigskin,

flipping it nonchalantly, low spiral

drilling the air. Maybe it’s this

moment before the splash of lights

before the game prayer

before you run from the door.

If so, forgive me

for seeing you so vulnerable,

in that quiet moment

before the helmets.

Poem copyright 2019 by Al Ortolani, “Game Prayer,” from “Hansel and Gretel Get the Word on the Street,” (Rattle, 2019). Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.

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