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American Life in Poetry: Column 212

by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2004-2006

We've published this column about American life for over four years, and we have finally found a poem about one of the great American pastimes, bowling. "The Big Lebowski" caught bowling on film, and this poem by Regan Huff of Georgia captures it in words.

Occurrence on Washburn Avenue

Alice's first strike gets a pat on the back,
her second a cheer from Betty Woszinski
who's just back from knee surgery. Her third—
"A turkey!" Molly calls out—raises everyone's eyes.
They clap. Teresa looks up from the bar.
At the fourth the girls stop seeing their own pins wobble.
They watch the little X's fill the row on Alice's screen—
That's five. That's six. There's a holy space
around her like a saint come down to bowl
with the Tuesday Ladies in Thorp, Wisconsin.
Teresa runs to get Al, and Fran calls Billy
at the Exxon. The bar crowds with silent men.
No one's cheering. No one's bowling now
except Alice's team, rolling their balls
to advance the screen around to Alice, who's stopped
even her nervous laugh, her face blank and smooth
with concentration. It can't go on
and then it does go on, the white bar
reading "Silver Dollar Chicken" lowering and clearing
nothing, then lowering and clearing nothing again.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2008 by Regan Huff and reprinted from the "Beloit Poetry Journal," Vol. 59, no. 1, by permission of Regan Huff and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.