American Life in Poetry: Column 359


At a time when a relationship is falling apart, sometimes the news of its failure doesn’t come out of a mouth but from gestures. Claudia Emerson, who lives in Virginia, here captures a telling moment.

Eight Ball

It was fifty cents a game
             beneath exhausted ceiling fans,

the smoke’s old spiral. Hooded lights
             burned distant, dull. I was tired, but you

insisted on one more, so I chalked
             the cue—the bored blue—broke, scratched.

It was always possible
             for you to run the table, leave me

nothing. But I recall the easy
             shot you missed, and then the way

we both studied, circling—keeping
             what you had left me between us.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2005 by Claudia Emerson, whose most recent book of poetry is Figure Studies, Louisiana State University Press, 2008. Poem reprinted from Late Wife, Louisiana State University Press, 2005, by permission of Claudia Emerson and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.