The last traces of a flaming rose sunset flee from another Bluegrass summer day. The birds go silent. The bats dart and dip. Edward Hopper yellow squares on dark blocks mark the welcoming windows of home and the neighbors; windows open to scarce breezes seeking relief from the viscous warmth of the evening. Windows open also to the sounds of the evening; anger and laughter from the flesh and blood within, or on television (The Honeymooners perhaps).
Also open to the sounds from without; the passing cars, porch conversations, sirens, and…
Two and a half pounds of steel gliding forty feet through the night air.
Two and a half pounds of steel slowly flipping once and once only like a gymnast in slow-motion.
Two and half pounds of steel crashing into dust and sand, sliding to a violent rendezvous with a one inch steel stake firmly anchored in a cubic foot of concrete sunk far below the surface of the planet. Its cry of defiance of the dying of the day pierces the night.
This is repeated three more times.
Some neighbors’ windows close. Some expletives are un-deleted.
The twelve-year-old mind behind this performance trudges the forty feet to pick up his horseshoes and prepare to continue his metallic meditation in the other direction.
And make no mistake: a meditation it is.
Each shoe is banged against another to remove the dust gathered from the previous throw. Every bang rings like a mighty bell. This backyard, this horseshoe pit, is 500 miles from the nearest ocean, but ships at sea spring to emergency stations upon hearing these mad night bells from Central Kentucky.
Each ring of each shoe is a soul-centering om-m-m-m-m to this nocturnal pitcher of steel.
Probably not so much for the neighbors.
Each earthward swing of the arm, each precise release of the shoe, each slow arc of the flight, each moment of mayhem when steel meets steel, is a mantra of serenity deliciously smashed by gravity.
I loved to pitch horseshoes.
My dad built the pit. He dug the hole and poured the concrete and angled the stake. He built the frame and filled the whole schmegegge with sand. Pretty soon the sand was mostly beaten away and dirt only remained, but everything else endured my constant pitching.
I pitched for hours. The ring, the swing, the fling, the flight, the landing, the clang, the trudge, repeat ad infinitum.
I thought no great thoughts. I solved no personal problems.
I simply became one with the dust and the clang and the air and the motion and the gravity and the steel and the night and the summer…
…and then my mom framed in the yellow square of our back door;
“Roger Lee! It’s time to come in. You’ve bothered the neighbors enough tonight.”
Can I get an amen?