Old Men Pitching Horseshoes by X. J. Kennedy

There used to be horseshoe pits in the park in my childhood town. Maybe they are still there, along the river, near the swimming pool and not far from the baseball field. On summer evenings, into the night, you could hear the clink of the horseshoe games. I never went close enough to watch. No one I knew threw horseshoes, but I heard many times that one of the Haggert boys was a champion horseshoe thrower. The whole business was at the edge of my small-town experience. This is a poem by X. J. (Joseph) Kennedy about horseshoes. I think of X. J. Kennedy as a children’s writer. Who else but a poet with the heart for reaching children would bother with rhyming couplets like these?

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.

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