• Anthony Chase

Justin Karcher: Poems of the Theater



Life Cycle of the American Gambler

Inspired by "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie"


By Justin Karcher


Somewhere in California losing our minds

small-time gangsters chasing us through a junkyard of trees

broken windshield wipers dangling from branches

they look just like wind chimes but don’t sing any songs

an offering to the god of bad luck, who is also a sleazy loan shark

a float of bird, a nonstop party, a bother of rock but we can’t stop


We’ve spent the last few years

learning how to lose in casinos

that look like the sunken eyes of our toxic fathers

where we try trading our fingers for bottles of Dom Pérignon

but the bartender’s like, “Your fingers aren’t worth anything”

after some bullshitting, he takes pity on us

chops off a couple of our fingers

he’s right though

our fingers haven’t touched anything real in years

reaching toward stars that aren’t there

we’re like astronomers with no formal training

dreamers swinging broomsticks around & screaming

“These are telescopes”

the whole world screaming back

“You’re getting dirt everywhere”


We’ve spent the last few days

trying to experience moments of intimacy in half-demolished nightclubs

where ghost clowns stand center stage & cry latex tears

their sadness forms balloon animals that have forgotten how to roar

that get locked up in zoos & live out their days

poking holes in their own bodies

dreaming up a wilderness tangled up in blue


We’ve spent the last few hours

driving up & down the red coast

hoping the smell of the ocean makes us innocent again

but there’s no beach anywhere, no sandcastles

just these giant piles of raw meat with googly eyes on them

so they look like monsters still alive despite the cleaver

despite our hunger

giant billboards everywhere that read, “Rejoice, the butcher is dead”


We’ve spent the last few seconds

removing our brains

replacing them with roulette wheels

placing bets on our insecurities

why we do what we do

then the croupier spins

flashing lives

a glimpse of the future

what we want to happen


revolution crushing the narrative of old-fashioned self-destruction

the most dazzling drag queens

arming themselves with pocket knives

sneaking into the bedrooms of debt-ridden men

the drag queens cut out their dreamless tongues

then they go outside, climb utility poles & stick the tongues on top

like angels on Christmas trees it’s all too beautiful

Then there’s peace on earth a very loud voice declaring “Love how you love, but harder”

Don’t gamble it all away it’s too late we have nothing left to give do we pick up the gun?



Justin Karcher is a Pushcart-nominated poet and playwright born and raised in Buffalo, New York, where he is the unofficial poet laureate of the theater community. He is the author of several books, including Tailgating at the Gates of Hell (Ghost City Press, 2015). He is also the editor of Ghost City Review and co-editor of the anthology My Next Heart: New Buffalo Poetry (BlazeVOX [books], 2017). He tweets @Justin_Karcher.”

©2019 by Theater Talk ... and I'm Anthony Chase

Buffalo, NY, USA