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  • George Looney (bio)

In the midst of a hand of seven-card stud,your cards shit & you down to your lastfew chips, almost but not yet tapped out,

without meaning to you find yourselfthinking of your father's bemused ghost.

The last time you saw him alive, your fatherstared for hours at a wall as white & blank

as a screen in a theatre before the movie.What film might your father have beenwatching that day in the nursing home,

so enraptured? Maybe an old film noir,a grainy black & white, the music almosta hymn sung by a choir of stuttering

women who aren't sure of the note they are

stuck on & want to get past it enoughto have forgotten it. A smoky back roomof some mundane & marginal business,

four men overwhelmed by seedy gray tones

playing poker, a near-empty whiskey bottleone man purses his lips & blows across [End Page 153]

to produce an almost ghostly whistle,a single note that segues into a tuneyou'd swear you recognize as Sinatra,

though you can't say what it is. You areseeing this from the point of view of theman who's whistling the song you finally know.It's "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,"

& you're in the movie, & only youknow the player across from you—whose handis full of nothing. Trash cards, you'd say

if you were you & not some characterwith a more than shady past & a lover

who happens to be married to the manwith nothing but trash—will be dead

by morning, though you don't yet get thatyou'll be arrested for his murder, set upby your lover & the woman she loves

in ways you will spend your final hours,

alone in a gray cell waiting for the priestwho can give you only last rites & nothing

more, trying to fathom. Before the film's over,your ghost will end up in a bedroomcrying as two women embrace & kiss

with a passion not even a ghost can'tnot want to be part of. And maybe

you are. The hand that's been dealt you [End Page 154]

while you imagined a film noir isa winning hand, & your father's ghostsmiles & turns away & you know he is

off to find your mother in the houseyou were born in, the house that's nothing

now, demolished decades ago to make wayfor an interstate. But they say the house

always wins, in the end. So you think ofyour parents making love with the lights on,

making you again & again in a pastthat will just keep on going as youwin back just enough to call it quits

& head home, having finally broke even. [End Page 155]

George Looney

George Looney's books include the recent Red Mountain Press Poetry Prize-winning What Light Becomes: The Turner Variations, Meditations Before the Windows Fail, Monks Beginning to Waltz, A Short Bestiary of Love and Madness, and the award-winning novel Report from a Place of Burning. He founded the bfa Program at Penn State Erie, edits Lake Effect, and is translation editor of Mid-American Review.



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