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American Life in Poetry

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

Who hasn’t wished he or she could talk to a carnival worker and find out what their lives are like? Everybody, perhaps, but the carnival workers. Here’s a poem by Mark Kraushaar of Wisconsin that captures one of those lives.
 

The Ring Toss Lady Breaks a Five

It’s all of it rigged, she says,

Bust-one-wins, Hi-striker, even the Dozer.

It’s like you think you’ll score that giant panda

for the wife except you can’t, or not

without you drop another twenty

and then—what?—then you win

a thumb-sized monkey or a little comb.

She hands me five ones and then stands.

She’s worked the whole of the midway,

she says, funnel cake to corn-dogs.

She’s worked every game

plus half the rides, Krazy Koaster,

Avalanche, Wing-Ding, Tilt-a-Whirl

and if there’s somebody sick she’ll do

a kiddy ride too, Li’l Choo-choo, maybe

the Tea Cup.

There’s a collapsing soft sigh

and she sits, opens the paper, turns a page

and as if she were the one assigned to face forwards,

as if it were her job to intuit the world

and interpret the news,

Anymore, she says, it’s out of our hands,

it’s all we can do—it’s not up to you.

You see that bald bronco tearing

tickets at the carousel?

We worked the Bottle-drop

and now he’s mine: he’s no genius

but he loves me and he’s mine.

Things happen, she says, you

can’t take them back.

 

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.

 

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.

 

"If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry."
    -- Emily Dickinson


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