Prose Header

Nickel Ante

by Carmen Ruggero

Life’s a journey, so I’ve been told.
Hop on that train, you’ve got no choice.
All aboard! Echoes throughout,
Point of departure, birth, destination death,
a one way ticket to Heaven, or flaming Hell,
It’s been said time and again, don’t look back,
what’s gone, is gone, don’t waste your time.
But I look at the footprints on the road;
what’s the purpose of it all?
No ready made answers, I’m afraid;
empty handed, I quickly alter my song:
Life’s a gamble, I like to think.
A game of chance — I was dealt a lousy hand;
I’ll play it again, one more time.
Or is my reason out of kilter?
Is it a plan, instead? Unyielding, inflexible,
no new windows to open, no doors,
no gaps for dawn’s light to spill into this room,
these walls, always the same...
the same rancid, cliché patters in my brain,
that time, and time again
spells out debits — debits! Where’s the gain?
Point of departure, birth, destination death;
what comes in between, marks your total worth,
so they say... so they say... and I ask:
Have I dealt all my jokers at once in
this game of penny ante — no more kings
or queens — dealer takes all...
nothing left — lost it all, but a shiny nickel —
better play it right.
I stare at the nickel slot. It stares back at me.
Panting... pulsing... I’m taking one last chance
to do it all again, do it right this time!
My hand trembles, my face beads in acrid
fluid; it smells of fear.
I lose my shiny nickel, I know my death is near.
But then the lights go out, and the silence’s
broken sharply by a growling sound:
“Hear ye, hear ye, play your nickel! Take your chance!”
And the music of an old carousel losing speed,
as it goes round, and round, and round...
I hear again that strident, discordant sound.
“Hear ye, hear ye, play your nickel! Take your chance!”
I slide my nickel in the slot, I hear it drop...
clonk, clonk, clonk... it goes in the dark.
I know death wants me. It’s been on my mind
But something pulled me from this wicked whim:
When I heard my nickel clonk, clonk, clonk,
in the hollow of my mind:
A sign emerged from that darkness. Bright, red letters flashed:
And the growling voice spoke again:
“No death, no such,” it gasped,
“while there’s still hope in your foolish little heart —
take your lousy nickel — better luck next time.”

Copyright © 2006 by Carmen Ruggero

Home Page