Horseshoe Contest

Jeffrey Harrison

East Woodstock, Connecticut
Fourth of July

After the parade
of tractors and fire trucks,
old cars and makeshift floats,
after speeches by
the minister and selectman,
after the cakewalk and hayrides
and children’s games
are over and the cornet band
has packed up its instruments
and left the gazebo,
the crowd on the town
green begins to gather
around the horseshoe pit
where a tournament
has been going on all day
and is now down
to the four or five
best players—the same ones
every year, these old guys
who, beneath their feigned
insouciance, care about this
more than anything.
The stakes are high:
their names on a plaque,
their pride, their whole idea
of who they are,
held onto since high school
when they played football
or ran track—something
unchanging at their core,
small but of a certain heft.
Limber as gunslingers
preparing for a showdown,
they step up in pairs
to take their turns
pitching the iron shoes,
lofting these emblems
of luck with a skill
both deliberate and
offhand, landing ringer
after ringer, metal
clashing against metal,
while the others, those
who entered the contest
just for the hell of it
and who dropped out
hours ago, their throws
going wild or just
not good enough, stand
quietly at the sidelines,
watching with something close
to awe as their elders
stride with the casual
self-consciousness of heroes,
becoming young again
in the crowd’s hush
and the flush of suspense,
elevated for these moments
like a horseshoe hanging
in the sunlit air
above them, above their lives
as dairymen and farmers,
their bodies moving
with a kind of knowledge
unknown to most of us
and too late for most of us
to learn—though I’d give
almost anything
to be able to do anything
that well.

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