by Philip Bartram
Two floors down at fourth
And tenth, I enter the warped
Wooden doors, losing
The wane in my body, taking
Some odd stalking form void
Of mind and blood and bone.
And then to the right, I
Sink slowly into the vinyl
Upholstery of a worn chair
Not wanting another occupant,
Content with its features
And solitude along the wall.
In the air before the wake,
Chestnut finished tables, each with
Diamond-honed slate and rams’
Horn legs, feel the subtle trembling
Of moist hands beneath the hooded
Pop-eyed lights swung above.
Curtis sweats the action, knows
The hand’s small trembling
That stiffens the arm,
But keep it coming on the snap,
Down hard on the nine, shoot the
Moon and win a zillion.
I rise and move within the room
In the intimate dance of locksmiths,
Each with bird’s eye maple and ebony
Pronged cues, each studying the invisible
Geometrical lines and isosceles triangles
That crisscrosses the tables.
Gray wisps of stogie smoke
Rise and hang forever, I watch the
Procession of odd marks escorted in turn
By Bottles, the thumb-less rack boy,
To the nearest open table from the door
And the solitary female beyond,
Waiting in split-thigh dress, stockings
And air-cracked rouge from lost sermons.
In the absence of misted perfume
And lipstick-stained cigarette butts, Bottles
Shuffles between the tables, removes
The dust covers and brushes
The short woolen felt. In surgical order,
White cotton hand towels and blue
Cubed chalk are placed on the short
Hardwood rails. At the head spot, the wooden
Triangle bemoans fifteen precise-cut spheres,
Each seeking its own space.
In the streaming of soft light,
A proposition becomes a breath that
Condenses on the cold concrete walls
Only to vaporize again. The solid-six ball
Morphs, becomes the seven or black
Eight and the break.
Curtis, tapped out, becomes
A railbird. A mark begins a low dull
Moan or a shunted prayer. Whitey takes a kiss
And finds the side pocket. On a corner table,
A masse twists in wild excitement around
A cluster of striped balls, kicks the twelve
Gently in the corner pocket, and comes to
Rest against the end rail. With each
Windpipe-tight asphyxiating shot, each
Mark, each victim, in turn takes the complexion
Of a faded two ball with one last
Insufficient lung-filling gasp.
Where none shows his true speed,
Road men and stake-horse players
Loot on the lemon, taking caches of
Union wages or lost mortgages chipped by
Callused hands from coal-black seams
Now, the ivory-ferrule scalpel
Makes one last delicate cut.
The mark supine on the hard
Italian slate closes his eyes
One time and forever. I watch the
Discoloring of flesh and know it.
Again and again and again
In the cold and barren room,
Bottles lays out the stiffs,
Each his own slab, his own particular
Peace, none leaving a moist trace
Of hope on the small mirror.
As the last dust cover is replaced,
Curtis, Joe Smarts, and Preacher depart
By the back stairs leaving no memento
Of the Ecclesiastics behind.
Outside, the lone female smiles faintly,
Adjusts her blouse once and moves on.
In impassioned stiffness, the
Poolroom moves awkwardly into
Shadows, freed from the endless action
Of pupil-dilated moochers,
Strings and bank shots, and
The hand’s small trembling.
The sudden and final closing of
Warped doors go unnoticed in
The cracked redbrick streets above,
Where shoppers and jaded politicians
Mingle and talk of chance fortunes and
I walk south and then right
On sixth avenue. A gentle wind blows
And the rain feels warm
On my face. I fear turning to
Look back where I have been,
Fear the moment when the
Stare becomes permanent and
My salt-bone corpse begins to
Dissolve. The Henry W. T. Mali
In my hand is out of place in
The non-Euclidean lines
Of traffic around me.