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The Dice-Player
(1956 - / United Kingdom)

The Dice-Player

I’ve had my nose in the ring since I was nine.
I learned those cubes fast: how to play a blind
bargain; how to empty a die from my palm
and beguile by turns loaded with prayers –
then sleight of hand. Ten or fifteen years
and you get wrists like a tabla-player’s, jaws

cut and edged by the knuckles and customs
of luck and deception. The fun’s in sham,
in subterfuge, in the eyes smoking out
an opponent’s call. I let my thumb stalk
each die, get to know which edge might
damage probability’s well-worn curves.

See, all dice are cut on the teeth of thugs
liars and raconteurs. I’ve concocted calls
those dealing in risk and perfidy, bluff or
perjury, would envy. But I’ve never stolen
or coveted dice fashioned from agate
or amber, slate or jasper, or from

the perfumed peach stones of distant shores.
Some think fortunes will be won with dice
made from the regurgitated pellets of owls;
or from the guano of seabirds that ride only
the loftiest thermals. I’ve always had faith
in the anklebones of goats, in the luxated

kneecaps of mountain-loving pugs. Look,
I’ve wagered all my life on the belief that
I can dupe the stars, subtend the arcs, turn
out scrolls, louvres, pups, knacks, double
demons – well, at least give a game rhythm.
I know there’ll always be an affliction

of black spots before my eyes, that my face
has its smile stacked slightly higher on
the one side, that the odds I’m not a swindler
are never square. But, Sir, when some rough
justice gets me back again to the floor,
then watch me throw fate a weighted side.

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