University of Southern Indiana

"Ante Up"

Mark Wagenaar

tonight at the poker table I counted
a hundred years in the mills
good living       hard life they said

while we waited for the river card
one to burn & one to turn

I could never catch a card to save my life

but somewhere up there’s the luck I’ve heard of
sweet as manna       luck or grace       prayer or
pair of pocket rockets       whatever you want

to call it       that promised land just across
the Jordan       just past the badlands
better lucky than good
better forgotten than lucky       or forgiven
if it’s exes or God or the IRS

so I leave my language for leaving
on the table with the one day of rain
this summer       with my words for mercy

& silence &/or God       (who would I speak them to
anyway)       (words that come between me

& God) words as quiet as
whiskey evaporating in barrels       the angels’ share
so they say       wherever they are       they walk
with the lives       we might have lived
had the cards fell a little better       I leave it all

on the table       stray bills & lean years & names
of old lovers       & walk out into the night
a possum kingdom of empty streets

2017 Mary C. Mohr Poetry Award winner Mark Wagenaar is the 2016 winner of Red Hen Press’ Benjamin Saltman Prize for Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining. His first two collections, The Body Distances (A Hundred Blackbirds Rising) and Voodoo Inverso, won UMass Press’s Juniper Prize and the University of Wisconsin Press’s Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry, respectively. His poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from The New YorkerTin House, 32 Poems, FIELD, The Southern Review, Image, and many others. Wagenaar teaches literature and creative writing at Valparaiso University, in Indiana.

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