William Rudolph

Seven-Ten Split at the
Cardinal Lanes
by William Rudolph

How much more grounding could this place be?—round rock, polished

paths narrowing between ditches, culminating in a pyramid of

ten balancing sticks—one more than those nine pins, circa

5000 B.C., excavated from an Egyptian child’s grave,

carried by keglers through third century Germany, and set up

in Manhattan for the 1840 opening of the Knickerbocker Alleys.

Now, flashy techno-graphics and automatic scoring flinching

the upshot of each delivery: this indestructibly red-necked, white-knuckled,

Puritanical-blue game of second chances waits

wherever any spinning drunk who can stagger his steps and roll an arc

can pay and try and pay… and try to send his luck down lanes that mirror

the smoke-filled bar, the rows of shoes, the endless racks of Brunswick pearls—

wherever the local DJ plays Patsy Cline after Patsy Cline above the din—

wherever some quixotic bum runs the abrasive polisher

and strides gutters for stuck balls; you know the guy, the one who ain’t goin’

nowhere and couldn’t give a frog’s fat ass, whose father left him a mis-

monogrammed ball bag, a sweat-stained wrist brace and—fitting

his claw of fingers and thumb—a globe custom-drilled with holes.

To look at him—pop machine keys dangling from ripped jeans, hand-pumping air

into gutter-bumpers for kids wrestling six-pounders—is not to see him

alone at 3am, slinking forward in his two-tone Dexters, knocking

down every masochistic pin the re-setting table can stand. Still—

try to hear what only he hears: his brushing steps, the tap-

landing and receding thunder of the ball, the implosive crash and

intruding silence—try to hear the echo, the returning rumble, rolling

steadily uphill; try to see, as his ball settles into its cirque, how

the predictable arm sweeps the remaining pins or pin or emptiness away;

try to feel, between re-winding shots at the ideal, how his longest finger

upon his swingside hand cools above the exhalation of automatized air—

how his balance hand, hovering over the magic reset button, trembles.

Even with his liberty, his daily option to step off at any time,

to transgress the foul line, to feel the pins’ perspectives—

as he blends his steps, draws back the weight, speeds its descent, allows

release and follow-through—he takes a lifetime to fall

into form, all the while believing he might approach that perfect motion

and pick up any tottering bottle- or club-shaped thing; yet—

the faster he flings the sphere, indirectly cross-lane skidding

the distance, the sooner he finds himself

one frame closer or one game farther from 300

and steps out of the bowladrome and into the night

like every other skittler, like incognito you-and-me, like both pins comprising

that ineffable                               split.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 21, Issue 3.

William RudolphWilliam Rudolph earned his MFA in Poetry from Vermont College. He is looking forward to taking his new grandson bowling at the Bowladrome in Grinnell, Iowa, where he coaches student writers both at Grinnell College and in GC’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program.

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