Poker Night, 1962
I took Marla home from the dance
at the high school and found a note
saying my parents were at the neighbors
playing poker. So I wander over.
Higby, the neighbor, offers me a drink
and I take some bourbon.
I sit down across the table
and over a place from the principal.
A big, blustery man working
on a glass of bourbon himself.
There must have been six, seven,
maybe eight people there playing
nickel, dime, quarter.
I do pretty well with low ball
and high-low split, breaking even
the rest of the time.
I notice that the principal’s
pile of change is going down
as mine increases.
He and a couple others are cleaned out
by midnight. His discomfort spills over,
his mood testy. There’s no one to target
and he can’t pick on me, it’s my territory.
It’s like watching a pressure cooker
and I wait for the steam to start
rushing from the valve on top.
Higby offers a loan and that adds to the heat.
It may be Friday night but these working folks
decide the game has gone on long enough.
Coats are put on, goodbyes are said
and we all head home.
Monday, at school, I nod to the principal
and he nods back.
Gary Lark’s most recent collection is “Easter Creek,” from Main Street Rag. Others include, “Daybreak on the Water,” “Ordinary Gravity,” “River of Solace,” “In the House of Memory,” “Without a Map,” and “Getting By.” His work has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Catamaran, Poet Lore, Rattle, The Sun, Willawaw. https://garylark.work/