The All-American, Matt Dennison

Philip Kobylarz, Precipice, Photograph



The All-American

He dribbled the ball, shot, missed,
dribbled and shot again, trying
each time to shoot so well the ball
touched nothing but net. To his surprise
his father walked out the back door
and joined him, silently feeding
the ball to him time after time
as behind them a car pulled into
the driveway and three men got out.
He recognized one as being
his father’s boss and father of
the prettiest girl in his class.
The others he didn’t know.

His father handed him the ball
and walked toward the men.
Words were spoke, hands shook,
he heard ‘wife…sorry…’ then they
got back in the car and drove away.
“You can tell who really means it,”
his father said after they had left,
and walked toward the house.
He watched his father go inside
then turned and shot, caught
the rebound, dribbled, shot—shot
until nothing but leather and net
sounded in the night.

Matt Dennison



Review by Richard Ryal

I admire the way the poem starts with an apparent predictability that the reveal in the middle whiplashes. Then, when the poem resumes its account, what was familiar now has new meaning regarding the father and son. It reminded me of a similar incident in my life a long time ago and made it shine a little with this unexpected point of view. Good storytelling but better, a subtle and valuable shift in human understanding. It’s about us, the readers, not just the poet. As a successful poem should be.


Review by Mykyta Ryzhykh

All is American. Each of us is America. Each of us is a sportsman. Each of us is masculine in some sense. But every poem and every life has its own ending, not necessarily the same as Matt Dennison’s.


Review by David B. Prather

This narrative is expertly interrupted by overheard conversation. What is offered in that moment suggests many possibilities, none of which are explored, and lets the reader imagine any number of scenarios. And the tone of the concluding lines gives us a hint, but never answers. A well-wrought poem.


Review by Claire Scott

A wonderful portrait of grief and how the father and son react differently to the death of the wife/mother. The father isolates, the son shoots baskets. A lovely moment when the father joins the son, “silently feeding/the ball to him time after time.” With simply “to his surprise” we know the father has not been available to his son. Then their shared moment is gone and the father returns to the house. The son continues to shoot, seemingly for hours to block his grief. I like the ambiguity of “You can tell who really means it.” I think the title could do more heavy lifting. I also think the first line would be stronger with out “the ball.” Just a list of verbs. I also suggest deleting “behind them” in line eight and “being” in line ten. A very moving poem!! Thank you.


Review by Robert Nisbet

A really well-judged portrait of bereavement here. Our background understanding comes from just the one half-heard comment from the visitors, but, after the scene of the father’s struggling attempts to break through and console, we get the continuing picture of the boy hammering away, seeking forgetfulness in his game.


Review by Jared Pearce

The stark consideration of grief and comfort are nicely shown in this poem.






Scroll to Top