Card Players’ Sestina

by Grace Biermann



I hear my father’s voice: “Never lead spades.”

But I am short-suited: no low diamond

to hide behind.  And I won’t play a heart.

You will, though.  You’re grinning: “I’m out of clubs!”

I doubt it, but I groan and take the trick,

already dreading what I next must play.


You said once, “Hearts is a dumb game to play

with only two,” and stopped it with a spade

that vanished—your favorite magic trick.

You smiled at me then, eyes like diamonds,

as I sat, dazed—your smile was like a club.

I shook it off too late.  It bruised my heart.


With two, each player knows who holds which hearts.

We know too much—we’re watching—it’s a play.

Before you lead you’re waiting for my club

and later you will dodge around my spade.

Your pale hands are certain, hard as diamond,

as you reach out to scoop up your last trick.


It’s all too soon I start to glimpse the trick,

with twisting in my stomach, ice at heart.

I used to dream of flowers, a diamond,

and clever children with your smile at play.

The dreams are different now—a garden spade,

the soft glow of a cathode ray, a club.


We two have always been an élite club.

I read your mouth and eyes.  You know my trick

of wincing when I lead that pesky spade.

And woe to they who make a third in Hearts.

It won’t be long before they give up play

while we smile, who each took only diamonds.


That day sticks in my mind, bright as diamond.

And hard as diamond, too—too hard for clubs.

I shuddered.  There was no more time to play.

No clever strategy, last-minute trick,

would stop the slow, sharp splintering of my heart.

Buried alive, I cursed the sighing spade.


One last time we play.  You’re out of diamonds

and running low on spades.  It hits me like a club—

you’ll take this trick, but I’ll have every heart.


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