Gargoyle 11
cover etching by Scott McIntyre
publication date 5/25/1979


the card player

Linda McCloud

in the brown photograph
is the granary and two horses tied to
a hitching post a bank a general store
it’s now auto supplies been paved over

the bar was a saloon
tilted back in their chairs sipping beer
are the cowboys
who sell cars and tractors
& play poker saturday night
till a pink sky stirs them out
& stumbling home to wives

the photograph belongs to a cowboy
his mother saved it among other memoirs
of her parents who came by covered wagon
to the valley her son rode in the rodeo
in summer he drove his cattle to high country
where the grass is green and belly deep
with his cow ponies and cow dogs
he meandered through lush meadows and between steep rocks
watchful for rattlers coyotes bobcats
he set up camp amid the pines
nothing to do but tend the cows
& play poker through the night

the card player
walked in one night
young enough to be one of their sons
knee high leather boots and a new stetson
an eager face and smooth hands
so the cowboys looked at each other
& smiled

he put his hat on the chair
rolled up his sleeves and began to work
the deck into a snake
into a continuous stream of symbols numbers faces
he charmed the cards
they worked only for him through the night
until the cowboys the bulldoggers the horse tamers
grumbled pulling together their string ties
they nodded sullenly at the card player
& left with empty billfolds

the last cowboy stayed &
bought the card player a beer
just to hear how it’s done
for never in all those mountain summers
had he seen a man play like that

in the morning light he looked older
tired worked out after his performance
i been playing poker since i was eight years old
he said my daddy taught me
he died with a deck in his hands
i spent years practicing every day
hours in front of a mirror
till everything i do is faster than the eye
my hands move on their own
while my eyes read every muscle in a man’s face
i don’t know what it is i do anymore
i have a sixth sense i guess you’d call it
fourteen years night after night
i got to live same’s everyone else
ain’t many surprises
once in awhile i’m wrong
but i know cards been my whole life

simple as that said the cowboy-tractor-salesman
as he dealt & they all laughed
at the way they’d been taken by
a young card player