Running the Table

Running the Table July 7, 2014



This fall, Sounds True is publishing a box set of teaching conversations based on the poems in my book Reduced to Joy. The poems are the teachers and unfold the journey from our head to our heart. For the next two months, I’m happy to be previewing poems and reflections from the box set.


We each have these stories in our own journey that have shaped us—either positively or negatively, either as affirmations or cautions. But we seldom are aware of them or how to use them for what we face now. This poem holds such a story for me, from my youth. My father’s father was one of four sons born in Russia and living in Brooklyn. This is the gift they gave me as a boy, that I return to often.


Running the Table

On certain Sundays in the late fifties,

my father’s four uncles would sweep into

our home like a tornado of laughter and

take us to the local pool hall. They were

weathered immigrants from Russia—Max,

Al, Norton, and Axi. They’d sharked their

way through the Depression, running the

table, throwing money in a jar. Once Axi,

hit by a car, broke his thumb, but cursed,

played and won, before having it set. That’s

how he got his name: Axi, for accident. My

father always opened up a little more around

them. I used to wake on Sundays and hope,

the way quiet children pray in secret for

gypsies to arrive. But what I remember

most is being knee-high, not quite able to

see the table, their laughter circling like the

gods of Olympus tossing their losses into the

sea. My brother and I would run through their

legs. We couldn’t make out all that was said.

But the smell of chalk, and swift strokes scat-

tering bright balls, the thunder of resilience

that parted life’s harshness—it made me feel

happy and safe. Sometimes I’d grab one of their

legs like the tree of life itself. Now, when beat

up and sad, I find myself drifting into some

bar, looking for a cue. Then I take the years

off like a coat, chalk up and sigh; leaning

over the felt table, waiting for their

laughter to swallow the world.



A Question to Walk With: Tell the story of a now mythic moment in your youth that has helped to shape your understanding of resilience.


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