Read the program, see for yourself
how that black stallion did last time out.
I prefer the paddock where
the horses pose, betray their performance
anxiety just before
every race, jockey silks shining.
The jocks hold them back until
the starting gun, then they’re off,
pounding the loam,
crowd cheering each of them on.
Confetti of ripped tickets litters the floor.
Lines at the $2 window reach back to the bar.
I make my $10 last the day,
hot dog and Diet Coke, too.
I work hard for my money,
can’t throw it away, but
there’s always a chance.
By a nose, a head, a length the races ends,
shortest two minutes of the day.
Back to the program, souvenir margarita
glass shaped like a cactus cup,
tickets ripped, or sometimes cashed.
What’s it like up in the clubhouse?
Carpet instead of cement,
bourbon instead of Bud?
I like it down here well enough,
eye level with the greenery, Ruffian’s flowered tomb.
Racing is something we try to share, but my parents
think I’m cheap, afraid to take a chance.
They call their losses ‘deposits’, and occasionally
they make a withdrawal, but mostly they pay,
for the dream of a time when the Fates
they’ve been so battered by change their minds.
I’m happy just to have the horses close
as they’re on their way to the gate, eager
youngsters waiting to run.
The colors of their coats, the riders’ bright flags of uniform
are parade enough, then a pretzel, a soda,
intoxicating blaze of horse and rider
circling the infield, dust disguising their tumbling hooves,
camera deciding in the end
who wins the race.
Just off the main stage of the Peeling Ceiling Room,
behind the red leatherette recliner,
my father kept a pool cue,
warped when I found it,
snug in a zippered machine gun case.
For years I understood but didn’t care
that his father, Pop, ran a floating crap game
out of their suburban basement.
Maybe my father picked up the sport
to honor his personal Nathan Detroit.
A few years back my friend Becky
ran a pool hall on Broadway, around the time
I quit my day job to play reporter, around
the time I spent a month first
digesting the shock, watching La Dolce Vita
over and over in the hottest July ever.
I was stunned as that shallow, bleached Venus
stumbling around the fountains of Rome.
Becky sold table time to Cadillac men,
common American tribe whose spirit guide
is a brave hood ornament, blathering class
even when duct-taped to the handlebars
of a second hand Schwinn.
Her daughter took her first steps on a slate table,
muffled by green felt and grey skies,
among those chiefs of backroom pow-wows,
arrows reduced to pretzel twigs,
crumpled singles in teepee piles standing in
for the purple wampum of their youth.
I know the dance that brings the snow,
natives whooping it up in deerskin Nikes.
When I play billiards, I chalk up like I mean it,
poised as Marcello’s father, country blowhard
who plays at worldly sophisticate, til
shamed by his own beautiful prey.
But that comes after– beforehand,
he sees the sights, shows his son how
a man behaves in a nightclub,
how to seduce a pretty girl.
The paparazzi leave me be now.
Life falls into unexpected pockets.
After I break, I let the balls
roll where they may.
Long Islander by birth, Cheryl A. Rice has called the Hudson Valley home for over 35 years. She is the author of numerous chapbooks, most recently Lady in Red (2016: Flying Monkey Press). Rice has featured at readings throughout the New York area, and is the founder/host of the now defunct Sylvia Plath Bake-Off. Rice was nominated for Best of the Web in 2015. Her poetry blog, Flying Monkey Productions, is at http://flyingmonkeyprods.blogspot.com/.