Around a felt-top table in Al’s faux-walnut-paneled breezeway, a small group in northwest Iowa — farmers, bookkeepers, stay-at-home moms — gathers for a game of Texas Hold ‘em. Though Bicycles are dealt to each player, it’s the booze and the tobacco, a little weed and a little speed that are the true calling cards.
work week damned all to hell
let’s get high
Sky-blue forty-eight-quart Coleman beckons those assembled here tonight, the smashed-up lid from when Nick drove over the thing with his 4-wheeler last June. It’s packed to overflowing with crushed ice, just to the left of the back door leading out to Al’s rust-stained patio. The fast-dwindling supply of Budweiser and Busch Light aids those (with such a preference) to toss back a few bennies, courtesy of Mike. Help yourself, he tells them, gesturing to piles of reds and blacks, pinks and blues lined up on the bubble-warped Formica bar in the back of the room. Wine coolers provided for the ladies sit untouched in the mini-fridge, right next to the hard stuff, beer being the beverage du jour this sweltering Friday night the end of August.
what’s that they say?
the spice of life
Pam, however, prefers her drinks mixed and tosses one back with redneck panache. She wipes already-smeared Plucky Persimmoned-lips with her sleeve (just like in the movies) and stumbles over a diaper bag en route to the kitchen to fix herself another.
temporarily on hold
mama loves her kids
Amber-glassed bottles and fist-crushed cans, two and three deep, crowd the beer-sticky table littered with Cheetos, mixed nuts, cigarette butts and crumpled tins of Copenhagen. Dueling incense sticks burn in adjacent corners of the room: Sandalwood to the left, Patchouli on the right. A stacked, colorful assortment of poker chips, like an irregular New York City skyline, each player’s personal space, indicators of relative wealth or lack thereof.
party prep is key
gracious hosts throw a winner
Mike-on-a-Mission vaults out of his swivel chair. He’s just remembered the stash of left-over cherry bombs and bamboo cannons stored in the back-end of his Chevy Trailblazer. However, he succumbs to the twelve beers he’s consumed thus far — three shy of a career high —and passes out in the faded pink weigelas that line the driveway. Tuckie sidles up to Nick, her manicured right hand slipping into his stadium-gray U of I athletic shorts and doesn’t give one hot damn whether Mira sees her or not. Liquid courage — and the lecherous looks he’s given her all night — stoke her take-no-prisoners pursuit of a little extramarital R&R.
things are heating up
at Al & Pam’s place tonight
Todd’s double chin hugs his red MAGA t-shirt — strands of pre-vomit saliva spool and spin, a slow drip onto 100% made-in-China cotton. His wife squeals and pounds her clenched heavily-ringed-fingers on the table, claiming her first victory pot of the night. I win with a pair of sevens! But Shelly is mistaken as her hand consists of a queen, an Ace, not a single seven and a Jack of Spades kicker.
no one remembers
why it is they play these games
cards lay all about
There will be no honest-to-Texas champions this game night.
Pass the button LEFT, Al reminds his wife and hollers to their eleven-year-old to switch Pandora to some Toby Keith as he cracks open yet another cold one. Tell me, he says: Who’s your daddy?
Editor’s note: “Game Night” is in the haibun style, a hybrid of prose poetry and haiku.
Julie Allyn Johnson, a sawyer’s daughter from north central Iowa, began writing poetry after her retirement from IT work in 2017. She loves hiking, gravel-travel photography, riding bikes, altered books and collage, reading awriting poetry and exploring trails in the Rocky Mountains. Her work has been (or soon will be) published in Lyrical Iowa, Persephone’s Daughters, Typishly, The Esthetic Apostle, Chestnut Review, SPLASH!, The Loch Raven Review, Better Than Starbucks, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Into the Void, Poetry and Covid, Phantom Kangaroo, Coffin Bell and The Briar Cliff Review.
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