Home About Us Features Write Now! Submit Resources

Wild Card

by Joan Moeller

They perch on their haunches on the stoop 
On the mean streets of the inner city, 
The boys dealing cards.  Shuffle, trump, 
Rap a little, build a fire in an old barrel, 
Wear gloves with no fingers and at dusk 
Everyone but The Boys scurries off 
Like roaches leaving the gamblers behind and you 
Only ever saw it in the movies 'til now.
It's like waking up almost. 
For the first time walking the block and knowing 
You were wrong: not everyone here is trading 
Dealing cards for dealing highs; it's ALL a gamble 
And like everyone else you 
Are grateful to have been dealt in at all;
The dealer isn't you.
But it isn't those guys in South Philly either.
And you're grateful. 
You gambled all your life, you know 
You get it now; the Dealer holds the cards. 
You'll read the cards you're dealt, discard 
A few just like the Corner Boys have done, 
Just like you imagine them to do, 
And there you are 
With your own hand to play:  
Hit me.
Two cards down
Two more dealt and one is this new 
Love of your life and one 
Of course the Wild One 
is your get out of jail free card, 
Your wild card, it's
The Cancer Card.
Stunned when you turn it up 
The boys on the corner switch 
To dice throwing 
And fade; You recede 
Into their background, 
The wild card stark in your hand, 
Designed to stick out, 
The Cancer Card.
Suddenly you don't wanna play
You want your discard back 
You want to fold
You are blinded by the street glare, the noise, 
the rap-tones from the corner boys and 
You were soooo sure you don't belong
In this neighborhood 
Here playing cards but
     Oh Yes You Do

This poem was inspired during a writing workshop at Stanford's Medical Oncology Center when Joan was asked to consider the wild card in a deck of playing cards. Excerpts of "Wild Card" appear in Sharon Bray's, When Words Heal.

This poem has previously appeared in When Words Heal, by Sharon Bray.