The dresser by the bed is empty
save for a single pack of cigarettes
and a deck of Queen's Slipper Playing Cards
grubby from much use. There are burn marks, grime.
Shuffling with his yellowed hands
he lays the cards nightly on the deal table
slanted crosswise in the corner
seeking the perfect pattern of the game.
He used to drink, he told me; used to fight.
Took the chance that came his random way
and always raised the stakes
till there was only one card left to play.
I only saw him the once. After a scuffle,
bleeding from the nose, he drank with me
in a smoky bar and talked of women,
how he'd lost his middle finger, moving on.
We all of us die alone, he said. And it was only
after I'd seen the story in the newspaper
that I understood the haunted look in his eyes;
the meaning of the single card he carried in his hand.
Is the deck stacked against us?
As the dirt falls on his pauper's coffin
I stand in solitary witness to his life.
The six of spades slides quietly into the pack.
29 September 2011