8 Ball at Sportsmen’s Bar & Grill

By John Bargowski

Road-trip thirsty, barely out of our teens
and passing through on our way home

from a cross-state friend’s, we took
every game from the pair of locals

we faced at this circus-lit hillbilly joint
in the knobby hills off I-80,

and maybe it was the booze queued up
for us at the bar as payoffs,

or maybe the skinny brunette in a brushed
Lady Stetson and skintight Wranglers

helping us drop coin in the slot of the juke
for triple plays between wins,

but something lit their fuses, so after JC ran the
last six striped balls of a double

or nothing, then sank the 8 in a corner
pocket with a bank shot, the English

on the cue ball spinning it so near the lip
a hip bump could’ve knocked it in,

that’s when the first pool stick shattered
across the table, skittered past the two-steppers

on the parquet then trip-switched the stools
to spin round, ejecting every good-timer

from their seats at the bar onto the floor
as we did the math, cut past the banjo clock

and out the swinging double to the Olds,
wheel-rutted the gravel and tore asphalt

back to the interstate, slapped in Waylon
and blasted some tonk out of the box.

John Bargowski’s newest book, American Chestnut, was published in 2022. His first book, Driving West on the Pulaski Skyway, was selected by Paul Mariani for the Bordighera Prize. His poems have appeared on Poetry Daily, and in The Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, Southern Poetry Review, Paterson Literary Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Poetry, and Ploughshares, and elsewhere.

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