(taut jeans dancing)

An Anthology of Poetry about Being Young and Growing Up
Table Of Contents
Acknowledgments & Links


Muhammad Ali

I dance and I have a fast hook.
I take the people's money like I'm a crook.

      A very short poem like this which has an unexpected punch (or fast hook) at the end is called an epigram.
      Pick a celebrity--who takes the people's money like a crook--and put yourself in that person's place. Write an epigram of two or three lines telling how you feel about what you do and the money you make. Get a zinger into the last line as Muhammad Ali did.



Us two was pals, the Kid and me:	
'Twould cut no ice if some gayzee,	
As tough as hell jumped either one,	
We'd both light in and hand him some.	

Both of a size, the Kid and me,	
We tipped the scales at thirty-three;	
And when we'd spar 'twas give and take,	
I wouldn't slug for any stake.	

One day we worked out at the gym,	
Some swell guy hangin' round called "Slim,"
Watched us and got stuck on the Kid,	
Then signed him up, that's what he did.	

This guy called "Slim" he owned a string	
Of lightweights, welters, everything;	
He took the Kid out on the road,	
And where they went none of us knowed.	

I guessed the Kid had changed his name,	
And fightin' the best ones in the game.	
I used to dream of him at night,	
No letters came--he couldn't write.	

In just about two months or three	
I signed up with Bucktooth McGee.	
He got me matched with Denver Brown,	
I finished him in half a round.	

Next month I fought with Brooklyn Mike,	
As tough a boy who hit the pike;	
Then Frisco Jim and Battlin' Ben,	
And knocked them all inside of ten.	

The crowd give me an awful yell	
('Twas even money at the bell),	
They stamped their feet and shook the place;
The Pet turned 'round, I saw  his face!	

My guts went sick, that's what they did,	
For Holy Gee, it was the Kid--	
We just had time for one good shake,	
We meant it, too, it wasn't fake.	

Whang! went the bell, the fight was on,	
I clinched until the round was gone,	
A-beggin' that he' let me take	
The fall for him--he wouldn't fake.	

Hell, no, the Kid was on the square,	
And said we had to fight it fair,	
The crowd had bet their dough on us--	
We had to fight (the honest cuss).	

The referee was yellin' "break,"	
The crowd was sore and howlin' "fake."	
They'd paid their dough to see a scrap.	
And so far we'd not hit a tap.	

The second round we both begin.	
I caught a fast one on my chin;	
And stood like I was in a doze,	
Until I got one on the nose.	

I started landin' body blows,	
He hooked another on my nose,	
That riled my fightin' blood like hell,	
And we were sluggin' at the bell.
I took 'em all and won each bout,
None of them birds could put me out;
The sportin' writers watched me slug.
Then all the papers run my mug.

"He'd rather fight than eat," they said,
"He's got the punch, he'll knock 'em dead."
There's only one I hadn't  met,
That guy they called "The Yorkshire Pet."

He'd cleaned 'em all around in France,
No one in England stood a chance;
And I was champ in U. S. A.,
And knocked 'em cuckoo every day.

Now all McGee and me could think
Was how  we'd like to cross the drink,
And knock this bucko for a row,
And grab a wagonload of dough.

At last Mac got me matched all right,
Five thousand smackers for the fight;
Then me and him packed up our grip,
And went to grab that championship.

I done some trainin' and the night
Set for the battle sure was right;
The crowd was wild, for this here bout
Was set to last till one was out.

The mob went crazy when the Pet
Came in, I'd never seen him yet;
And then I climbed up through the ropes,
All full of fight and full of hopes.

The next round started, from the go
The millin' we did wasn't slow,
I landed hard on him, and then,
He took the count right up to ten.

He took the limit on one knee,
A chance to get his wind and see;
At ten he jumped up like a flash
And on my jaw he hung a smash.

I'm fightin', too, there, toe to toe,
And hittin' harder, blow for blow,
I damn soon knowed he couldn't stay,
He rolled his eyes--you know the way.

The way he staggered made me sick,
I stalled, McGee yelled, "Cop him quick!"
The crowd was wise and yellin' "fake,"
They'd seen the chance I wouldn't take.

The mob kept tellin' me to land,
And callin' things I couldn't stand;
I stepped in close and smashed his chin, 
The Kid fell hard; he was all in.

I carried him into his chair,
And tried to bring him to for fair,
I rubbed his wrists, done everything,
A doctor climbed into the ring.

And I was scared as I could be,
The Kid was starin' and couldn't see;
The doctor turned and shook his head,
I looked again--the Kid was dead!   


Paul Goodman

Everybody went to bat three times
except their pitcher (twice) and his pinch hitter,
but nobody got anything at all.
Don Larsen in the eighth and ninth looked pale
and afterwards he did not want to talk.
This is a fellow who will have bad dreams.
His catcher Berra jumped for joy and hugged him
like a bear, legs and arms, and all the Yankees
crowded around him thick to make him be
not lonely, and in fact in fact in fact
nothing went wrong.  But that was yesterday.


James Wright

In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,   
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,   
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home,   
Their women cluck like starved pullets,   
Dying for love.

Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.


David Bottoms

On the rough diamond,
the hand-cut field below the dog lot and barn,
we rehearsed the strict technique
of bunting. I watched from the infield,
the mound, the backstop
as your left hand climbed the bat, your legs
and shoulders squared toward the pitcher.
You could drop it like a seed
down either base line. I admired your style,
but not enough to take my eyes off the bank
that served as our center-field fence.
Years passed, three leagues of organized ball,
no few lives. I could homer
into the left-field lot of Carmichael Motors,
and still you stressed the same technique,
the crouch and spring, the lead arm absorbing
just enough impact. That whole tiresome pitch
about basics never changing,
and I never learned what you were laying down.
Like a hand brushed across the bill of a cap,
let this be the sign
I’m getting a grip on the sacrifice.


Paul Goodman

They have come by carloads
with Styrofoam surfboards
in the black wetsuits
of the affluent sixties,
the young Americans

kneeling paddle with their palms
and stand through the breakers
One World Polynesians
lying offshore
as if they were fishing for the village.

They are waiting for the ninth wave
when each lone boy falling downhill
ahead of the cresting hundreds of yards
balancing communicates
with the ocean on the Way

how beautiful they are
their youth and human skill
and communion with the nature of things,
how ugly they are
already sleek with narrow eyes.


William Heyen

            Mantle ran so hard, they said,
          he tore his legs to pieces.
            What is this but spirit?

     52 homers in '56, the triple crown.
   I was a high school junior, batting              
     fourth behind him in a dream.

   I prayed for him to quit, before
his lifetime dropped below .300.
   But he didn't, and it did.

  He makes Brylcreem commercials now,
models with opened mouths draped around him
  as they never were in Commerce, Oklahoma,

        where the sandy-haired, wide-shouldered boy
      stood up against his barn,
         lefty for an hour (Ruth, Gehrig),

              then righty (DiMaggio),
            as his father winged them in,
               and the future blew toward him,

                        now a fastball, now a slow
                     curve hanging
                          like a model's smile.


Conrad Hilberry

The coach has taught her how to swing,
run bases, slide, how to throw
to second, flip off her mask for fouls.

Now, on her own, she studies
how to knock the dirt out of her cleats,
hitch up her pants, miss her shoulder
with a stream of spit, bump
her fist into her catcher's mitt,
and stare incredulously at the ump.

      Write about a different sport. Start, "The coach has taught (her, me, him)...."
      Then, "Now, on (her, my, his) own...."


Ron Loewinsohn

The playground is so filled with kids
that their games overlap, the 
outfielders of one game
standing on the basepaths of the opposite 
diamond; running around in between.
A fat girl out in left field
is standing with her arms folded
talking to a boy while she (nervously)
adjusts her glasses.
Suddenly she turns, unfolds her arms
& catches a fly ball for the 3rd out.

      Write a poem about the playground at your elementary school. Describe one of the games; tell what individual kids are doing in the mass of kids.


Jack Ridl

His daughter saw him first, hanging
from the maple that hung its old arms
over the house, his body
a stuffed sheet, his head blooming
from the rope that surrounded
his neck.  In the morning’s moonlight,
she read their name scrawled like a scar
across his chest.  She
remembered the way his hands
held her years ago when,
bloodied from a fall, she’d let
the scream we all carry
go to him.  He seemed to take it,
hold it in is own hands, then
give it back to the earth.
At those times, she had seen him 
in his own eyes.  Now, in the midst
of this losing season, she wants to
take this swollen sheet, hold it 
in her arms, let the hands
that made it and the fists
that rose against it join, let them
all stand around her as she sings
the only song, as she
lets the head rest, lets
the heart give out. 


Evangeline Paterson

The idiot boy in the outfield
gallops, eye on the ball.
Eye on the fly-half's leap,
he leaps too.  When the full-back
flings his length in the mud
he too, on the tussocky verges,
acts out despair.  He dodges,
weaves, feints, follows
the action in slow motion,
pounds the length of the field
again, again

and goes home unbruised, unmuddied.
When all the players are bedded
and snoring like trombones, he, wakeful, watches
an elliptical moon eluding him in the sky.

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