The Card Players

A poem about a Cézanne painting

Day’s end; the work complete, yet there’ll be more.
Some work is always left, tomorrow’s share.
The laborers divide and split the store;
Alight in dimméd pub. A shopworn pair
Particularly grabs a corner place,
The wine delivered yet without a glass,
Draw seats and then deal cards, on table brace
Their arms, upright and hunched, each takes his pass.
In silence, downcast, two among the din
Have talked all day, exhausted at the sound
Of their own mouths, their words as tools had been;
At work you speak of work, no words profound.
A dozen thousand things they’ve said all day
Between the two to make their commerce done.
What dreams these words actually convey?
The movement of the product, meaning none.
What labor then is done in idle games?
What learning of each other can be had
In antes, bets, attacks and losses, gains,
The chosen work, the struggle of the glad?
The bar achatter, yet this silent pair
With only plays in turns convey their prayer.


Every painting from France in Cézanne’s era is of people like this in a bar looking sullen and fancy. This probably tells you more about painters of that time than it does about France of that time.

If you transported these two gents to New York City circa 2019, the guy on the right would be immediately absorbed into the mass of dudes who live that guy on the right life. He’d fit right in. We already have plenty of guy on the right. The guy on the left, not so much. The hat, the pipe, the posture. Brown on brown. New York doesn’t have a ton of those guys.

One thing about both of these guys that wouldn’t make sense in the bars of today’s New York is they’re not constantly screaming “funny” shit at each other over background music that’s louder than an actual concert. So, good for you, late 19th-century Paris.

Anyway, thanks for reading. Forward this to somebody, will ya?

This is Phil.


Image: The Card Players by Paul Cézanne