Before 6 p.m., the pool hall’s empty
besides the Chicago crew,
who still swear by
Cadillacs, Coltrane, and Cuban cigars.
They’re Vikings, who look across the table,
their ocean, their starry night,
connecting balls like constellations,
mapping journeys before chalking up.
Every one of them has lost or found
his stroke between sunrise and sunset
in a pool room as dark and lonely
as the back pocket of a worn pair of jeans.
At some point, all have lost to the game:
a wife, a child, a home,
friends, self-respect, family heirlooms,
retirement, or sanity.
They talk about the good ole days,
specific shots and calls made before I was born,
when so and so ran x number of balls
in a joint that no longer exists.
They’re dinosaurs like the Cadillacs
they’ve been driving long before
The Color of Money
exploited the mechanics of hustling.
Because the game takes both art and science,
they are Newton, Newman, and Neruda
blending physics, pool, and poetry
their Cadillacs, faithful, always wait for them.
Two storefronts next to our pool hall, deemed unsafe by the city, still employ drug dealers. Doors and windows, like rotten clams, are always open.
Expired work permits in filthy windows, like makeup on prostitutes, give false hope.
Business owners locked into leases chug whiskey from coffee cups and weigh options:
arson, suicide, bankruptcy, abandonment…
The guy at the clothing shop up the street resorted to selling bongs and vaporizers,
“for tobacco use only,” to survive the recession until his goods were commandeered.
The corner gas station’s alcohol license is suspended again for selling to underage kids.
This afternoon a lady walks into the pool hall alone and asks for money; her baby needs formula. When I say no, she says, “fuck you then, bitch” slamming the door behind her.
“Baby, yeah right,” Willy chuckles and shakes his head.
Some days more people come in to sell their stories than to buy table time.
Some days the landscape closes in on me like my father’s superfluous advice.
Before the neighboring store closed down, the owners, all of their children, and friends
sat outside on plastic lawn chairs cursing, spitting, and trying to sell used goods.
If they played electric guitars; it would be an urban deliverance.
When we opened the pool hall, I overheard the owner of the tattoo shop say,
“Oh no, there goes the neighborhood.”
But because Willy’s on the front pool table, and Lady Day’s singing Speak Low,
on the radio, I smile despite my father, who warned me it’s all about:
location, location, location.
Rebecca Schumejda received her MA in Poetics and Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and her BA in English and Creative Writing from SUNY New Paltz. Her new collection Falling Forward was released from sunnyoutside press sunnyoutside press in February of 2009. In addition, sunnyoustide published her chapbook Dream Big, Work Harder in November of 2006 and her poem “Logic” on a postcard. Green Bean Press published her first chapbook The Tear Duct of The Storm in 2001. Most recently, her work has or will appear in The Blind Pen, Full of Crow, The Lyric Section of Somerville News, Night Train, Outsider Writer, Rusty Truck, Words Dance and Zygote in my Coffee. You can check out more of her work at www.rebeccaschumejda.com. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband and daughter.