The Game

By Steven Cramer

Let me clarify some things about the game.
First rule: think about the game, you’ve lost.
No tiles, cards, currency, whirling dials: all pieces

are included, space has been cleared at the table.
Join in. Your turn. Kids learn the game in school
corridors, score it in red along their forearms,

new staves on old. It doesn’t end when the day ends:
race for the stairs, dodging the geeks and slow kids,
thunder of fists on lockers, last push to the streets.

The old hands they become play all night, by daylight
a winner still in doubt. Friction Ridge, Lake of Enclosure,
Dot and Spur: its variants can wear a pencil to its nub.

Wedded to the game, couples bop to the Heart-Flip,
the Mind-Winder, later to lie on sheets deliberately
left blank. Who invented the game? Who made up

the jokes passed from laugh to laugh? Black suit
for weddings, same for the funeral. In between, quick
as a nail sparks an Ohio Blue Tip, it fixes in its sights

the boy who puffs, walks; leaves in a down of frost
crushed beneath his feet. At the ridge he’ll climb,
sun warms the girl expecting him, curve of her hand

moist to take him. When he comes, the game beats
in his heartbeat thumped by the wallop of her heart
beating against his; and like a spider tumor, spins

webs in his brain, in love now with how it’s played.


Stephen Cramer’s first book of poems, Shiva’s Drum, was selected for the National Poetry Series and published by University of Illinois Press. Bone Music, his sixth, won the Louise Bogan Award and was published by Trio House Press. He is the editor of Turn It Up! Music in Poetry from Jazz to Hip-Hop. His work has appeared in journals such as The American Poetry Review, African American Review, The Yale Review, and Harvard Review. An Assistant Poetry Editor at Green Mountains Review, he teaches writing and literature at the University of Vermont and lives with his wife and daughter in Burlington.

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