American Life in Poetry: Column 160


I’ve mentioned how important close observation is in composing a vivid poem. In this scene by Arizona poet, Steve Orlen, the details not only help us to see the girls clearly, but the last detail is loaded with suggestion. The poem closes with the car door shutting, and we readers are shut out of what will happen, though we can guess.

Three Teenage Girls: 1956

Three teenage girls in tight red sleeveless blouses and black Capri pants   
And colorful headscarves secured in a knot to their chins   
Are walking down the hill, chatting, laughing,   
Cupping their cigarettes against the light rain,   
The closest to the road with her left thumb stuck out   
Not looking at the cars going past.   

Every Friday night to the dance, and wet or dry   
They get where they’re going, walk two miles or get a ride,   
And now the two-door 1950 Dodge, dark green   
Darkening as evening falls, stops, they nudge   
Each other, peer in, shrug, two scramble into the back seat,   
And the third, the boldest, famous   
For twice running away from home, slides in front with the man   
Who reaches across her body and pulls the door shut.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2006 by Steve Orlen. Reprinted from “The Elephant’s Child: New & Selected Poems 1978-2005” by Steve Orlen, Ausable Press, 2006, by permission of the author and publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 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.