American Life in Poetry

Apr 16th, 2009 | By | Category: April 16, 2009, Arts & Entertainment, Issue

By Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2004-06

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
around her like a saint
come down to bowl
with the Tuesday Ladies in Thorp,
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
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.

Poem copyright (c) 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 (c) 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. This column is made possible by the Poetry Foundation ( and supported by the UNL Department of English. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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