The Players

by Philip Gross

Somewhere in a square in the old world, by the Hotel Princip,
            by the Palace of Justice, somewhere in a park
                        of clean gravel and poodle-cut trees

beside cobblestones seamed with tramlines, somewhere near
            a kiosk café whose waiter, in stubble and butcher-
                        striped apron will fail to appear,

sometimes for days, at three wrought iron tables, bearing
            coffees concentrated to a fierce point, a black
                        hole – one sip will suck you in,

turned to sparkling stone… Somewhere like this they sit, two
            old men, each one older than the other.
                        Bending forward, they sit at a pace

from which the three-lane traffic is a shimmery smear,
            a mirage, oil on water, and the pieces
                        themselves seem a fidget,

a jitter of cause and effect which leaves no choice but,
            now and then, to lift a hand… a moment’s
                        late appraisal, as the world

turns one more orbit. One
                                                  moves. Looks up. The other
            nods. I’ve seen them at the black and white
                        marble table with the raised squares          

in the Garden for the Blind, a table like a plinth
            on which they are building ice sculptures
                        of certain uncertainties, and

it is beautiful, very, they might say. If ever they spoke.
            (Kibbitzers do the chatter for them.) They
                        live, if indeed they do,  

in twenty worlds at once, all intercutting: if, and if
            not, then, and if then, not… Every
                        thirty years or so, a bang:

slammed door or backfire of exhaust, and now and then
            a handgun. All the combinations shatter
                        into flight, up

over rooftops, dewlapped gables, weather vanes
            to reform, circle, circle, homing
                        on wherever we may be.