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 In the midst of a hand of seven-card stud,
your cards shit & you down to your last
few chips, almost but not yet tapped out,
without meaning to you find yourself
thinking of your father's bemused ghost.
The last time you saw him alive, your father
stared for hours at a wall as white & blank
as a screen in a theatre before the movie.
What film might your father have been
watching that day in the nursing home,
so enraptured? Maybe an old film noir,
a grainy black & white, the music almost
a hymn sung by a choir of stuttering
women who aren't sure of the note they are
stuck on & want to get past it enough
to have forgotten it. A smoky back room
of some mundane & marginal business,
four men overwhelmed by seedy gray tones
playing poker, a near-empty whiskey bottle
one man purses his lips & blows across
to produce an almost ghostly whistle,
a single note that segues into a tune
you'd swear you recognize as Sinatra,
though you can't say what it is. You are
seeing this from the point of view of the man
who's whistling the song you finally know.
It's "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,"
& you're in the movie, & only you
know the player across from you--whose hand
is full of nothing. Trash cards, you'd say
if you were you & not some character
with a more than shady past & a lover
who happens to be married to the man
with nothing but trash--will be dead
by morning, though you don't yet get that
you'll be arrested for his murder, set up
by your lover & the woman she loves
in ways you will spend your final hours,
alone in a gray cell waiting for the priest
who can give you only last rites & nothing
more, trying to fathom. Before the film's over,
your ghost will end up in a bedroom
crying as two women embrace & kiss
with a passion not even a ghost can't
not want to be part of. And maybe
you are. The hand that's been dealt you
while you imagined a film noir is
a winning hand, & your father's ghost
smiles & turns away & you know he is
off to find your mother in the house
you were born in, the house that's nothing
now, demolished decades ago to make way
for an interstate. But they say the house
always wins, in the end. So you think of
your parents making love with the lights on,
making you again & again in a past
that will just keep on going as you
win back just enough to call it quits
& head home, having finally broke even.
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Author:Looney, George
Publication:Prairie Schooner
Article Type:Poem
Date:Sep 22, 2019
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