The Eater of Hearts


Hand by hand, they search for each advantage, large or small
Weigh each judgement keenly, be it to fold, or raise, or call
A Poker player’s life is one of disciplined ambition
And by the light of day, they’d each deny all superstition

But often, what a player says won’t mirror what they feel
And what their reason marks as false their gut will mark as real
If I claimed a Royal Flush could lose, they’d call me Liar
But in their darkest hearts, they know that Satan’s Flush is higher

Upon the curve of Ten, Jack, Queen and King should sit an Ace
But higher still’s the hand that ends with yet another face
Its open jaws a monstrous sight which fall in just one suit
And in my gambler’s tale, this cursed card sits at the root

I’ve been for quite some time, you see, a player of renown
I’ve cast chips on the grandest stage and toured from town to town
My play precise; my tells concealed; my gaze steady and cold
The game’s made me a wealthy and respected man, all told

But even strident Poker stars can face a darkest hour
And learn, for all their hubris, there’s always a greater power
So it was that, cameras gone and lights dimmed for the day
I left the venue of the tour in search of games to play

A friend, also professional, had spoken of a table
Where players, mostly amateur, were all wealthy and able
He’d furnished me discreetly with a scribbled, smudged address
Then grinning, bade me go there and put my skill to the test

As the taxi pulled away, I brooded that he knew
My deeper motivation in the game and called it true
For money does not move me, greed has never been my sin
I’m doomed by pride: my every living breath is breathed to win

Now for a secret poker game, I picture cramp and gloom
A venue less appealing than the average boiler room
Selected more for privacy than comfort or location
So I felt shock when I beheld our lavish destination

A grandiose apartment block did tower o’er the street
Inside, an elevator bore me to the penthouse suite
A butler met me, took my coat, then steered me to a chair
Where I bought in, aligned my chips and studied who was there

Under the lights, I noted men who moved in world finance
Sportsmen, gathered for a different game of skill and chance
A woman, clad in fur and diamond, fresh from silver screen
A politician, eyes suspicious, face pulled tight and mean

The dealer’s gloves began to flash, beneath the lamps, so bright
And at each seat position, two fresh cards did then alight
Blinds were posted, button passed, the betting then began
Cards were turned, curses thrown and I commenced my plan

Although my chip-stack ebbed and flowed, I felt upon a roll
Observing their behaviours, I began to take control
Playing into their conceits, or scenting at their fear
I tricked those players, one by one until my lead was clear

But then my overconfidence began to show its teeth
For I believed my skill the other gamblers were beneath
So when the player opposite raised up and voiced his doubt
I pushed my chips toward him; and in short, he blew me out

At once, my peacock’s ego felt a sharp and lasting sting
I’d thought myself this table’s undisputed, silent king
For all my seasoned training, then, I felt my temper tilt
Inside I vowed to crush this man, outplay him to the hilt

My foolishness is plain now, when I cast a backward gaze
For all my judgement, I sank deep into a scarlet haze
As the hands proceeded, I risked too much of my wealth
In efforts to entrap this man with goading, bluff or stealth

I studied him anew, noted his hungry, hunter’s eye
I picked my moments, pushed – but somehow, triumph passed me by
Enthralled by my obsession, I was led a merry dance
All my winnings drifted off upon the winds of chance

For every ‘winner’s’ hand the white gloves dealt unto my seat
My nemesis would calmly show his cards and have me beat
Even when probability marked him out as ‘the dope’
He’d luck me out egregiously; I never had a hope

My mood was right at fever pitch, I’d burned through my bankroll
But the dealer, in that moment, chose to call an interval
The players all dispersed to drink, to eat, ‘powder their nose’
I marched to the window, with a temper to compose

Beneath my pale reflection, lay a sparkling urban sprawl
So captivating that I almost failed to hear his call
But a second repetition roused me and I turned to him
’twas the dealer: gloves still pristine white, expression grim

He told me in a low voice that he knew me from the tour
Admired my play; considered it methodical and pure
But that it was so obvious that I hated to lose
He had a mind to offer me a boon I’d not refuse

I quickly moved to halt him, as I’d no desire to cheat
A player bested fairly is the kind I want to beat
But he hushed my objections by inflaming my suspicion
My nemesis had used a fraud to reach his strong position

My anger thundered back and I demanded he explain
And he told how all of my guile had truly been in vain
This man, this hungry enemy, my stake had planned to steal
To set things in his favour, years ago he’d made a deal

As I heard that form of words, a chill ran down my spine
Had the supernatural helped to take what was mine?
I questioned; he confirmed it; my heart then hammered hard
As he recounted there the tale of an accursed card

He described a game won by a hand most strange and rare
Crowned with a card we may deny but know, to our despair
Is as ultimate a weapon as it’s ultimate a price
And which we hide in the Id, lest we’re tempted by its vice

My Nemesis had played this card, to win a vital hand
And every player witnessing had come to understand
That he had made a pact which doomed him with a deadly sin
But to my ears, it seemed he’d found the perfect way to win

I asked the dealer straight, if he could deal the card to me
He looked surprised, replied he’d simply wanted me to see
That it was futile to oppose the bearer of the curse
But hearing this only enhanced my glory-seeking thirst

The dealer strove to warn me off, before my soul was lost
He spoke it seemed, quite earnestly of the infernal cost
But all counsel was wasted: I knew just the path I’d choose
As long as beats my heart I know I’ll never opt to lose

We stood in silence, ’til I saw him nod his head at last
Now I had crossed a Rubicon; the die was truly cast
He turned from me and moments later I heard him proclaim
That players should retake their seats: ’twas once more time to game

I ante’d up, by trading in my Rolex for a stake
With chips in hand, my confidence returned too strong to shake
I played the hands with razor skill and doubled up my stack
Each inch he’d taken, I swore blind, by hell I’d take it back

In early clashes he assumed I’d come once more unstuck
I caught him unawares with both improved play and good luck
I saw the rage in his eyes as he realised he’d been burned
And as the game progressed, decisively the tables turned

He tried each trick, but with my game he could not get to grips
My appetite grew monstrous; bite by bite I claimed his chips
The other players sensed it, drifted off in ones and twos
As the tension climbed, the empty seats around us grew

Eventually it was too much and hence his temper broke
His face flushed red; a sweat broke out; his throat pulsed, fit to choke
I’d outdrawn him outrageously and won upon the river
And he burst from his seat with fists both clenched and lips a-quiver

Of funds, he now had none for I had stripped his reserves bare
But so unused to losing, he had one more stake to dare
As he spoke, one could have cut the atmosphere by knife
He challenged me, this time to play him purely for his life

With little hesitation, calm, I nodded my assent
All other stragglers simply stood, cashed in their chips and went
The dealer talked us through the rules, we’d take new chips and play
Only the man who took the other out would see the day

Our eyes lock’d with each other as those white gloves dealt the hand
Until you’ve risked it all, there’s no way you could understand
The skills we’d honed to make us rich would be put to the test
Everything we’d ever been, upon one card might rest

We traded wagers cagily, with little progress made
Only in the closest hand might I hope to get paid
For no man risks his life unless he’s sure that he will win
Only when we both had strength would the endgame begin

The blinds, though, had no sympathy and pressured us to play
We faced a rising penalty for the urge to delay
Eventually, our margin for such skirmishing was slight
And we approached the pivotal engagement of the night

Having checked my cards, I felt a thrill but hid it well
I matched the bigger blind, then watched the flop cards as they fell
The dealer deftly drew them forth, laid each one on its back
That triplet bore the suit of Hearts: the Ten, the Queen, The Jack

My Nemesis had hope, it seemed, for his raise was aggressive
Though I did not believe his chances in the least impressive
I matched him; saw the turn was blank – a low Club, I recall
But the river brought the card that saw him risk it all

The King of Hearts laid on the felt and my opponent struck
He pushed all-in; I matched him; he barked I was ‘out of luck’
He turned his cards, showed me the Ace; no vict’ry could be sweeter
I savoured it as I revealed that I’d been dealt the Eater

Of other cards, it bore the most resemblance to the Jack
But teeth stained scarlet, jaws agape and eyes of purest black
Upon the Heart of its suit, it appeared just poised to feast
That blood-red ‘E’ glowed like the eye of some satanic beast

My nemesis was shocked and quickly, gone was all his valour
The triumph in his face was fast replaced with deathly palour
Once more our eyes locked and my heart began to burn with hate
And hunger most unnatural to send him to his fate

A feeling then consumed me like no other, all my days
And I leapt o’er the table as I fixed him with my gaze
I confess, I stained my person scarlet in my haste
To prise his ribs like fingers, back and take his heart to taste

Eventually, my movements slowed, when I’d eaten my fill
My newly sober eyes stared at the carcass of my kill
The knowledge of what I’d become swept o’er me in a rush
I glanced round at the only witness to my Satan’s Flush

The dealer’s smile was subtle – eyes sadistic, diamond hard
I recognised him then, for only one could deal that card
And so reached a conclusion, which was both wordless and grim
From that day, ’til he tired of me, my soul belonged to him

He bid me go and wash the filth and ichor from my chest
And from the penthouse wardrobe, I was suitably re-dressed
When I emerged, the scene was gone: no clue remained, not one
And so he sent me, blinking, out into the risen sun

I reached the venue of the tour event with time to spare
Though I’d not slept a wink, I felt strong as I took my chair
I saw the players ’round me as a wolf might see its prey
I ran the tables handily and triumphed on the day

Since then, my life has been a whirlwind of Poker success
A record so abnormal that I play now less and less
For there are whispers every time a scoreboard bears my name
And players know: if you face me, you risk more than a game

Sometimes at night, I lie awake, with thoughts I cannot still
Sometimes I hear his call: then I must hunt and eat my fill
I walk a tightrope and I know, I must retain his favour
Or he will give some new young buck a victory to savour

When we’re found at the poker table and your luck’s run hot
When your pride’s consuming and it seems that you know not
Where decency ends and the lust for winning starts
May those white gloves deal unto you the Eater of Hearts

Sulfur and Sleighbells

As outside, the moon shone clear and pavements frosted over
I dozed warm and fitfully, alone, upon the sofa
My dreams a flick’ring cavalcade of festive imagery
A vision of how Christmas Day tomorrow was to be

Below me, scattered strips of paper, scissors, scraps of tape
Created such a scene as would have left my wife agape
Above me, with our tiny son wrapped tight and sound asleep
That very lady lay, just finished counting Christmas sheep

My own nap, although pleasant, had reached its appointed end
And not because I’d realised there were presents yet to tend
But rather that a nearby sound did make me start with fright
And as I lifted eyelids I beheld a wondrous sight

Although still sleep and dreamstuff did enfog my waking mind
I made out rich, red ermine covering a man’s behind
And running from above his boots to the collar round his throat
A trim of snowy fur adorned the length of that great coat

There was but one conclusion, though I’d only viewed his rear
I know my festive myth and saw the implication clear
And so I whispered throatily, after a baffled pause:
“Excuse me sir, but might it be that you are… Santa Claus?”

The figure, unexpectant of my salutation, froze
And slowly from his former hunched position, then, he rose
And gradually rotated until I beheld a face
That to my naive sentiment seemed greatly out of place

Rather than the white beard I’d expected on his head
The whiskers of a billygoat were there emplaced, instead
And rather than two kindly eyes and a cherubic grin
I beheld a wicked gaze and crushed, red-leather skin

The creature smirked as it observed the widening of my eyes
And addressed me in a tone intended only to derise:
“Such shock has grown so boring that it brings on nowt but yawns…”
As he drew full back his Santa cap, to reveal his hook-ed horns

“Come now, just how obvious must the connection be?
Between ‘Saint Nick’ and ‘Old Nick’ is a linkage clear to see
And if you take the time to read with an unbiased eye
It’s apparent that ‘Santa’ is ‘Satan’ spelled awry.”

From there, in simple sentences he made the striking claim
That Lucifer and Father Christmas were one and the same
So evident was his enjoyment of my shaken state
That he decreed I’d ride with him that night, as his first mate

Now reader, even when you find me in my finest fettle
I’m really not a man of stout and true heroic mettle
So when the Devil stated I would join him on his round
I meekly went along without the first defiant sound

He clicked his claw-like fingers: in a cloud of brimstone, *poof*
I found we’d been transported and stood now upon my roof
And there, sprawling, chaotic, all across the tiles it lay
A twisted, darkling mockery of a cheery Christmas sleigh

Striding forward, Satan clapped his beasts upon their flanks
And made his way toward his mounting through their sordid ranks
Reindeer, I assure you gentle reader, they were not
But twisted works of sculpted flesh, all but consumed by rot

Their faces looked like unto dogs, with muzzles pulled too long
Their limbs like knotted leather, decayed but wiry-strong
Upon the ends of each were shaggy, ape-like hands
Their sightless eyes had gazed too long on barren, burning lands

“Mount up!” the Devil shouted, as he beckoned with a wave
I took up my position with a countenance most grave
He lashed his reins, long ropes of skin: the vehicle took flight
And that bone-sleigh drawn by monsters dashed out into the night

“The two jobs are well-suited,” he yelled o’er the wind to me
“‘Tween presents and perdition, there’s a certain synergy!”
To point one out, with childish glee, he then could not resist:
The book of sinners overlapping with the ‘naughty list’

Then we began descending and our first visit was made
By a humble fireplace the children’s gifts were laid
That stop was quickly followed by another just the same
And I realised that mayhap, I’d misjudged the Devil’s game

For, zig-zagging the globe, the prince of sin flew far and near
And left behind a mountain of unopened Christmas cheer
Parcels large and parcels small he placed beneath the trees
And his monsters drew him onward with all-too-apparent ease

I helped him in through windows; lowered him down chimney-pipes
For rather than just teleport, the dark prince earned his stripes
Hefting high upon his shoulder the present-laden sack
He got into the spirit and kept Christmas Eve on track

Suffice to say, my admiration for Satan had grown
By the time we’d left the final present and the sleigh had flown
Back out into the night, for what he called ‘one final stop’
Although the parcels all were gone, he would make ‘a special drop’

At last we curled out of the sky to land in virgin snow
The moment was so portentous, the wind had ceased to blow
I looked upon the grand old face of a darkened country house
Whose master surely dressed in tweed and shot the local grouse

As I turned to question him, the King of Demons rose
Approached the front-most of his monsters; touched it on the nose
Whereupon, to my alarm, for the gesture had seemed warm
The thing unleashed an awful shriek – then started to transform

The skin-rope reins first fell away, as it writhed and it convulsed
Great shapes moved, wild, beneath its skin; its bones twisted and pulsed
With a sound like raw meat tearing, did a smaller form emerge
Spewed forth in the monster’s dying breath, onto the snowy verge

I started forth to see what lay there, steaming, on the ground
But I was halted in my tracks by a quite familiar sound
Weeping; it spilled forth from what I realised was a child
I turned to face the Devil – and in the dark, he smiled

“Go now,” he called past me, “Once more, boy, you are free
You’ve paid your penance now for having laid your eyes on me.
Your parents long have prayed that you’d return to them some day
That day is now: you’ve served for twelve long years before the sleigh.”

Panicked – and yet grateful – the boy did as he was told
And as I watched the child flee, my own blood ran ice-cold
For twelve numbered the beasts who gave the bony sled full flight
I realised I must pay for fixing Satan in my sight

Thus, without more words I let him fix me to the reins
And felt the tearing in my flesh, the burning in my veins
Accepting with an eerie sense of total resignation
That I must take the mantle of his slave-abomination

Now I must draw forth his sleigh to the barren, burning lands
But first I’ve scrawled this note with sightless eyes and ape-like hands
Convey it to my wife – tell her I never meant to leave
But the darkest lord has claimed me on this frosty Christmas Eve