I have heard about how the old-timers do it.
How they sit around at the store in town and play
their cribs with weathered hands that hold cards
still and straight as though they were sighting deer
and ready to pull the trigger. Instead it’s fifteen-two
fifteen-four and the right jack…all the while
they gab about what isn’t even here but what
their running noses tell them to ponder, what their backs
(the pain notched above the hip) throb into them.
Today I noticed them in there beyond the beer
sitting and talking and sizing me up
warm and self-assured but just as skeptical
as any card skipped across the table.
They stare down winter, these old-timers they look
for signs to carry them along. They have their own store
where they display talk on little, invisible shelves;
their remarks sit like canned goods I might buy someday.
They have their way about change these men.
They play with it like those cards they shuffle—
with a slippery finality, no second thoughts at all.
One says, holding his suspenders just above his shirt pocket,
you can measure caterpillar heads for sure…
then there’s raccoon fur and onion skins, too.
His partner steals a point. With a cough
brief enough to interrupt, he says that wasps
nesting high up in branches says lots, of course.
He says watch squirrels to see if they bounce,
weigh cornhusks or check to see if frogs are sleeping
deeper in the mud. He puffs a bent Camel.
‘Yessuh. Keep an eye on hawks they say.’
He bends over the crib on his good elbow, staring
back up at me with the wide-eyed look of smelling a skunk.
Sinking back into his chair, he exhales a ‘Look at pig spleens.’
Damn these old geezers, these puckish curmudgeons.
They do not jump at twenty-four hands, at anything
let alone a season that is still far off.
So I turn away and head to the counter with a six-pack,
mumbling about a broken barometer at grandma’s house
whose needle always pointed to a smiling UNSETTLED.