Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Christopher Cunningham's In Gambler's Blood

Christopher Cunningham’s chapbook, In Gambler’s Blood is available from Kendra Steiner Editions and is about the different perspectives of the gamblers at the gambling table. Think of it as a story unfolding through the eyes of the characters that brings to light their backgrounds as well as their emotions brimming through every turn of the card.

There are two poems I particularly enjoyed in the collection and the first one is:

the calculation of risk

the one with the difficult job
watches the cards as they slip from the
dealer’s fingers onto the dark burgundy felt.

four of diamonds
ace of diamonds
eight of spades.

he sees the gambler on his right move a stack of chips
in his direction. he takes a breath, very shallow.
he looks at the dealer.
he thinks about
the different kinds of luck
a man can have.

and not have.

the air is heavy with rent money and pain.
he reaches down and lifts the corners
of his cards
with rough fingers
to make sure his ace and his eight are still there.

he counts the chips in the pot.
there are two cards to come.
he calls.

life moves strangely.

he scratches his face and looks out over the
edge of his world
into the unknown.

My favorite line is “the air is heavy with rent money and pain” because it places the emphasis on what’s at stake to lose and win. It also indicates the place where the gambler is coming from, his need for the money, the pain that comes with addiction in needing to play. You can also find yourself holding your breath waiting for the outcome just as the player is deciding his move. The ending leaves you hanging in suspense which furthers your desire to read the other poems hoping the answer will be found.

The second poem I enjoyed immensely is:

a matter of reward

the one with the family doesn’t like
what he sees.
he rolls the gold band around his finger
with his thumb while he thinks.

at home his wife
is putting the kids
to bed. the television is on
but the sound is down.
she turns out the light
on the children
and has a glass of wine
in the silence.
her mind is quiet.

the gold is cold under his thumb.

he looks at the four again.
the one with the difficult job
is sitting very still,
staring at a spot
atmospherically removed from the game.

when does a man
ever truly know
for certain?

he pitches his cards in the muck
along with the money
that will not be his.

This poem not only encompasses the player but also his family and their activities while he is playing cards. The line “her mind is quiet” piques my interest because I cannot imagine a woman whose mind is quiet if her husband is out gambling and she knows it. However, she may not know what he’s up to and that could be why her mind is quiet. Chris, when you read this review, would you be so kind as to which is it?
Also, when the player is lined up with the stanza “when does a man/every truly know/anything/for certain” it makes a great setup for the letdown. It’s as if the player lost confidence and threw his cards and money into the fray regardless, recklessly. Again, this brings me back to the wife whose “mind is quiet.” What do you make of all that?

Please visit the Kendra Steiner Edition site and please note there is a 3 for $10.00 special for purchases which is well worth your while. Also, with the purchase of Cunningham’s book comes a special surprise inside hand-made by Mr. Cunningham himself that represents the entirety of the chapbook.
You can also visit Christopher Cunningham’s wonderful blog at the link below:

Thanks for reading, please stop in tomorrow for more Poems Found by Poet Hound…


christopher cunningham said...

her "mind is quiet" because she knows she's got a good man out there, the type of man who is capable of laying down a set of fours (three fours was his poker hand) in the face of possibly losing all his dough. he is a safe player and she knows he won't risk the family's ability to pay the bills, etc.

his willingness to put his family before his own delusions or drive for "winning," his weighing of the 'risk/reward ratio' that drives poker players and thrill seekers alike, his thinking about home during the action at the table illustrates how he believes he's 'won' in life already.

as for 'when does a man know anything for certain," that line references the idea of odds, and that while nothing is ever 100%, this particular player is much more willing to 'gamble' on his family life and the things that truly bring him happiness rather than the illusion that more money might somehow provide greater success, bigger reward, etc.

it is less about a loss of confidence and more about a realization that maintaining his ability to provide for his family is the better 'play.'

we joke about 'gambling away the baby's milk money' at some of my games but a good poker player NEVER does that; it's important, in order to be a 'successful' gambler, to have money you can 'afford to lose.'

it's also why the other players represent the other spectrum of players: the professional with money to lose and the hard working man with 'rent money and pain' on the line. the family man plays just like a pro gambler would think he'd play: safely.

christopher cunningham said...

also, you could ask my lady if her mind is quiet when I'm out pushing chips around and she'll tell you that it is because she knows what kind of game I play (and it's not as safe as "family man" in the chap, but it IS effective ;)).

Poet Hound said...

Thanks so much for shedding more insight into everything. Now I've satisfied my curiousity about the lady with the quiet mind.