THE RULES OF THE GAME


I had my first hair cut when I was three.

(I had been tricked, bamboozled, farfirt).

My grandpa took me to his barber’s –

redolent with banter and tobacco smoke –

near the junction of Cricklewood Lane

and Finchley Road. It was frequented

by his card playing cronies. I watched him

have his hair trimmed and some strands combed over.

I was invited to try the high chair

but, no sooner there, I was begowned

and the scissors flashed. ‘Fetch a policeman!’

he always claimed I called out. I imagine

a shop full of Jewish refugees laughed

uneasily at my accidental vits.

 

He smoked Craven A in an ebony

cigarette holder, drank tea from a glass

with a silver plated handle and snacked

on Rakusen’s matzos coated with

Colman’s French Mustard. When I was eight

he taught me to shuffle a deck of cards,

perfumed with nicotine, from hand to hand

then thumbs and forefingers like a croupier.

He taught me Gin Rummy where the twos

of any suit are also deuces and wild

like the jokers. We could choose whether aces

were high or low. I liked the black cards best.

 

When we were playing he would sometimes pause

to tell me stories: of Kiev; his escape

from Russia; my father; my grandmother.

We continued to play well into my teens.

There were questions I did not know how to ask

and ones then I simply did not know to ask.

I pass the tiny tales on like pieces

of a mosaic. ‘Remember’, he said,

‘for patience whichever way you shuffle

first the jokers remove!’

 

 

 

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  1. #1 by John Huddart - April 25th, 2016 at 11:50

    That quotation at the end – poetry is all about syntax, about translation! A rich and sensuous piece, and funny.

  2. #2 by Steve Crewe - April 25th, 2016 at 14:30

    You’ve excelled yourself this month, David, and stirred me to make three comments where often none are forthcoming. It is perhaps indicative of our age that memories from so long ago come so brightly to the fore, while what we did five minutes ago is often open to question.

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