Christmas, 2004 / No. 13

there are two occasions for breaking the rules. the first time

you tilt the machine, you are hoping to impress the girl with the long face,

the neat ankles, the small freckle balanced on her cheek

like longing that appears as an after-sun effect. the gates are lined up,

and the silver ball bearing zigzags lazily against the boards,

denying gravity, floating freestyle, writing her name

in sibilant z’s, a new rosary no one notices

in the smoke and jukebox music. you are connecting,

the points are jamming the counter,

turning over so rapidly they freeze

zero zero zero

a long blank stare she turns on you,

witch, pausing your trigger finger just long enough

to turn your luck, the gates yawning,

and you sliding through, catching on nothing

the air rushing pure and cold and free around your heart,

breaking now, knowing winning is not enough.

years later, on your tour back home, the small dusty

city seems impossible, the bar empty and echoing, melamine surfaces

skittering your drink across the table.

that 5 A.M. feeling when your brother phones,

just another call from the holding tank—

are you good for bail, can you make it

before she gets in and sees he hasn’t been home all night?

your brother is the first-born son, bears the scars

of your parents’ expectations. like a stag with broken stem,

he carried you all his life,

hoisted you on his shoulders above the crush,

proud of your intelligence. you’re the one

who’s getting out of this town, you’re the man,

and this is the moment when you see the game suspended,

the ball gliding silently in absolute promise,

the flipper bowing down in grace, ready to send you

out of this world, and all it takes is one breath

of absolution, one moment of leaning over,

one small, slight push that is against all rules

and everything will be all right this time.

Sabina Kim lives in a leaning house on the border of High Park and the Junction. She is a writer and editor doing graduate work at York University, concentrating on poetry and the empty subject. Her work has appeared in Grain and Absinthe. Last updated Christmas, 2004.