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Skeletons sitting around a poker table


Jesse among the pokermongers, Virginia City

by Paul J. Lyon

Theres a poker game formed, with a salad of anted greenbacks;

chairs screeched to stops at the table, the rugged plunk of bright chips,

enough of a pot to postpone Sunday; some suddenly sobered,

others quickly got theirselfs skunked on the local; & players twisted from jackets….

hours later, the games whittled on down to 3, stupid from lack of sleep, who unwisely bet,

repeat theirselfs, & require to be tickled from dozes

by invisible deacons with fishinpole feathers.

Then somewhere an orchard withered: Slade paces in, slithers into a seat,

pulls a long wallet like a black dirk out: & we seen some real poker then.

…a southerner fondled his clownish chips: “Raise— not ova your heads I pray.”

But Slade easily slipped by, never flinching the giveaway, never a hand he didnt like;

& continually extracted razor bills dramatic, undercuttin his pals.

He had this one fellow Arch in a sweat, but the Southerner’s unmoved:

its just what I always said, you want a steady hand

git yourself a lost Cause behind you.

However a certain Ace, I think the Diamond or Heart, been absent the longest time:

you could see it in their Eyes, you could smell it in the Wind, it most bespoke itself occult,

& sprung out uncanny of its own voluition.

Better lets leave on out of here now, you think to yourself. This Ace,

you & I knowed of it all too well: news of it traveled silent

from wink to wordless wonderment, brow to brow around the room.

Yet nothing of it seen yet. Never have I heard so much

about an item no one uttered a word. You had your 4 in hand,

your full house & your square flush, your trippin pairs & trios of splotch,

& arranged or discarded dots & sharps: nowhere the one single one,

of what I shouldnt utter nothing. No man suggested a new Deck—

implies somebodys paperin the tables bottomside.

Now it couldnt been up the gentlemans sleeve: southerners only cheat with women,

they gamble for a measurement of their Spine; & couldnt been Arch, whos close to asleep,

though he held his cards well, staved off the end heroic.

They had to ante for him— he couldnt of stole an Ace,

the lights was out & the others dead. The fourth players dumb as a Stump,

whenever he shuffled, the cards gone up to the ceilin like a fountain:

he was near broke, had his kids in the pot— wouldve cheated before now,

when the next to go is the Livestock. So a silent awareness settled frosty,

told by a certain shiftiness of gaze, & judgelike sighing:

Slade had his own wild card, had to be him, & all eyes waited for him to pull it.

Arch had some skill, but not the prudence to pull out; & his eyes was stayin open

only outen Courtesy: then he folded. “Got to get some sleep or Ill fall in my beer.”

“You dont look,” said the dealing Slade “too awful tired to me:

got a bad stomach for the company, frecklefoot?”

The southerner feigned surprise: “Are we speakin of a particular, irregulahty?”

Slade waived the idea with his arm: “Not at all Major; we have all missd a card.

Call it superstition.”

& he give them one direct glare: “Gentlemen I am not a cheat.”

They all darted at that, jabberin sincerely, disclaimin any idea of the sort;

they wouldnt hear of it; nothin of the kind; they swore it were an alien notion;

never crossd my mind; it werent that sort of game; Honor is presumed.

The worn Arch was discharged without more remark,

nodding in agreement with the efforts at protocol. Slade redeemed,

the next hand was dealt with the greatest masonry,

in defiance of the Incubus reared among them: the dumb fellow spilld his hand:

theres the lost Ace. Arch was on his way out the door

& it happens a Galoot was on his way in, same fateful Moment.

What followed was one of them common occasions, two folks bump-buckles accidental

&waltz sideways, warrin crabs of low breeding, tryin to get around one the other;

& each moves to the left or right, but, playthings of cynical laws,

buckles click 3, 4 times, & one says Ha, ha— shall we dance?

Each sidestep an impass:

Ha, ha— a thousand lighthearted pardons!

Instead of this, though, the Galoot puts a fist on each of Archs shoulders,

railroads him cross the room, snortin like a rebellious bull. This clears the door.

“Learn some manners you son of a bitch,” counsels the Galoot.

At this unfortunate time, Slade sees the elusive Ace:

everyones greatly relieved, seein the fruit of their Patience,

& Slade announces in thespian flourish “That takes care of the cheating.”

The Galoot clenched up: “What— that runt there?” & a murmur went round

of Sam Brown, Sam Brown.

He collared Arch, twirled him to the bar like slammin a gate:

“You been cheatin? Been cheatin?” “No! No!” Arch pleaded.

Cheatin! Cheatin!” Sam Brown the Galoot hollered

having in general had a chip, big as a pokeweed bale, on his shoulder anyhow—

dont need the policin a pokergame to work it— uses any old fullgrowed man

as handy to try & knock it off. Now Slade launched up to restrain him,

bein a sometime companion; & Brown had rode shotgun on some routes;

but it was late as never by then, Arch was dead before Jack took a pace—

he was more than dead— dead aint the word—

he was carved up like a fencebroke pheasant— he took his share of killing,

& far enough more, to of killed everyone whats in the room twicet.

…You dont want to get so involved in a murder.

Youd conclude Arch’d been full drained, but it kep coming;

we was all froze in shock to the man. We was an ambrotype.

Slade stoppd in a runnin pose, like the great Greek plate-thrower,

all heads nailed to the seen, glasses midway to mouths, cigars smolderin neglected.

Even the carefully draped Ruebens, reclined over the bartenders crown

held in her rich lips a half-formed Oh. We was a slowed-motion, steady-posed,

serious tableau utterly vivanted, a dire ramada of paused shoulders,

men swayed to halt, like tall palms, hopelessly matured to headdress of excess,

in suggested explosion, of cannonball cocoanuts high-up pinned

to feathery fronds against the wind, awaitin the expert oiled crawl

of Islanders to dislodge, & drop the hardened half-formed fruit of our thoughts;

we was has-beens, & also-rans, bystanders & hired hands; platoon of idle sluggard troopers,

waitin on orders in damp barracks, stiff by rote of constant exhaustion

& exercise— but dappled we was by droplets crimson,

as far away as from here to there. Brown werent finished yet:

with wanton skill of hunter lugging, & separatin a warm carcase

he hauled the limp Arch to the Billiard table, dumped him atop spreadeagle,

scattering to the corners the polished balls, fieldmice goin for hideout holes.

In the incredible sight of all present then, he cut Archs heart out

& throwed it on the Floor. He wiped the big blade on Arch’s wool cap,

& thrust that terrible machine whence it come, next weathered Belt.

There was sweat-beads big as the billiard balls, collected over his rucksayer brow

& strode out shakin like a grampa maple. Only sound in the place,

the French provincial flippin of the woodfan blades, circuitin over horror unperturbed;

& over against the wall, one sallow fellow puking.

Arch had an expression on his Face youll never see on the Street.

His chest was open like a fresh cherry pie, couple of pieces served.

Bartender come up with a tablecloth, & lookin aside veiled the corse:

the blood leapt quickly up, as that hard fluidll do, when it notices a space

& filld in the checkerboard patternwhite squares, so its soon a scarlet windin-sheet.

The ivory globes of the Gentlemans game

numbered & colored like your chances of Glory, drowned in their carpeted niches

by the released restless stuff; & it travelld in protein impulsion

to paint the tips of scared mens shoes

an accusing pink goatee. We sought mud soon for erasure. Slade had a Cigar

long to his grim fist wasted down, what scorched him in his immovement:

he swore & kissd his hand….

Paul J. Lyon

June 7, 2013