Poker Night

Poker Night

Once or twice, or thrice a year,
On semi-planned trips to this place,
Generally coincident with
Thanksgiving, Father’s Day,
And impromptu mid-Spring
Somethings, I make the cross-state
Trek for a family nickel-poker game.

Between the cackling laughter
And the timbre of change on
Plastic-cloth upon plastic outdoor
Tables set in a sun-room that’s at
Once indoors and outdoors—
Oscillating fan whirring and
Breezing whimsically—we catch up, we bet.

CanadAnglish, a familial language—itself
Breezy and dime-turning—passes
Across the thick-pinked lips of
Ma Tante-matriarchs who’ve outlived
Mothers and sisters to carry on
The blustery, simple-loving wisdom of
Pure octogenarian feminism.

Plastic pearls and
Faux diamonds:
Aces, big hearts,
And Spades.
Risen queens
And aging kings:
A shrinking deck.

Dipping from and depositing into
time-worn, plastic butter tubs
Ringing with emptied coin-purse
Treasure, cards shuffle between hands
And spouses and nephew, ad hoc:
Not quite cheating: whether it’s
Pity pots or guileless altruism.

Ma noncs, long-given to the blessings
Of near-deafness, raise and play
Mechanically, winning pots when
Necessary, staring quietly into time-stained
Corners for generations gone, whose
Spirits remain, overlooking the empty
Seats they’d left us, that I now proudly warm.

Puns distill punchlines—now the jokes—
cross English to French to repetition.
Un-funny except in their cadence and
Volume, bounce about long-passed
Virilities—sex, still a funny innuendo— and
Long-passé celebrity gossip: Elvis and
Liberace and Willie Nelson’s Loose-Wheel.

And we recount, just as we are
big-pot ante-ing, blind-betting,
What it is I—still a child in their eyes—do.
I fall into the easiest trope
Of all. “I write poems,” I say.  
“That pays your bills?”
“That and computer stuff. It buys my nickels.”

We talk about mortality, finding
Winning patterns in ages,
Addressing cancers as nuisances—
Uninvited, inconvenient visitors who,
Like diabetes and forgetfulness, have
Found their ways into our tells:
Wagers on the autumn seat re-shuffling.

We skirt the perimeter of talks I’ll
Never make them have, about my “special friend,”
Card-holding, but knowing that I’m special and
Was always sensitive, and, frankly always
Their favorite. They’ve known me as long
As I’ve been me and I know that I am loved:
I learned love from them and I know they know so.

Next time, I think, as they slide their
Relative winnings into containers—
I, leaving mine for takers—
Eschewing the oppressive jingle of
Coin in my pocket, I know I’ve won—
Even without counting—a seat among
Greats: all Hearts amongst Diamonds: and all Royals.

Read more of my poetry, essays, and stories at 


  1. Very nice memories for you and for all of your ancestors.

  2. What a GREAT rendition of our evening! LOVE looking at it through your eyes and through your heart! E :)


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