Old Men Pitching Horseshoes | Poem by X.J. Kennedy

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.

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.


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 ©2007 by X.J. Kennedy. Poem reprinted from In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007, by permission of X.J. Kennedy and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2013 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.

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