Poems

AKHIM YUSEFF CABEY
Ode to Pool Frank

I

papa got his first man 
the season arthritis twisted 
his fingers at the knuckle 
and the meadow vole 
cackled, free to spread its disease 
amid the millet and the maize 
and the pistachio tree grown
seven years since my birth. 

I was too small to handle 
the rusted axe lodged 
in the cherry’s petrified 
stump—my hands too weak 
to milk the cow’s swollen
tit. and papa said, I can 
no longer pour the coffee 
or rack the balls. our man 
arrived one morning 
and took the animal away 
to be slaughtered. that night 
he fed my father slivers  
of fried beef then screwed
a stick together and built his
black fingers into a bridge
on the basement table. 

he taught me to breathe 
before every shot—
to scuff carefully the surface 
of the cue’s tip. he took 
my left hand in his 
and rubbed powder along 
the web of skin 
between forefinger 
and thumb. believe
in the slickness, he said 
and you will win. soon 
there was milk and warmth 
and rodents lined up 
beneath my window 
in a convoy and obeyed. 

II

I cut my teeth far away 
from the farm at a campus 
dive for decades enough 
to see the fossilization 
of pay phones and plasma screens
hung from walls. soon I was 
too old for college girls
clicking tongue rings
and facial piercings twinkling 
from cash machine light. boys
cut and colored their hair 
in styles that prevented them
from being my sons. 

all that was ever needed
is the one stick and chalk touched
to the crevice of tended 
skin. he carried three—one apiece
for breaking and shooting 
and the enigmatic masse—
arriving for weeks, left three 
fingers sheathed in a glove
of black, faux silk. arrogance 
dripped from his sculpted 
upper body sown 
in purchased spandex 
tight as the baize of the table 
he stretched across 
to take the long shot—
damn the degree of difficulty 
or the courteous, nice leave.

a brief explosion of balls 
before the still pause. the boys rush 
quarter after quarter
into defeat     into apology 
for offenses he cannot see
but knows are there to be used
over their heads to buy 
his drinks, to settle all previous 
tabs. they love him for it 
and offer up glimpses of girls 
sitting cross-legged at the bar 
nibbling ends of red tequila 
sunrise straws. he keeps
his hands to himself 
after every win or loss. I scratched 
the eight the one time
we played: hungry, in need
of memory, he offered me
only elbow—no, good game, bro
and his wide back too swollen  
to teach, to feed, to serve. 

Akhim Yuseff Cabey is a Black author originally from the Bronx, New York. A Pushcart Prize-winner, he’s been notably mentioned in both The Best American Essays and The Best American Non-Required Reading anthologies. Nominated for a Best-of-the-Net, he is a six-time recipient of the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award and a fellowship from Headlands Center for the Arts. His fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Callaloo, Indiana Review, the minnesota review, Chattahoochee Review, Kweli, Passages North, and elsewhere. He is currently working on his first poetry collection in Columbus, Ohio, where he teaches language arts and mathematics.